Akaroa vs the South of France

Arguing that the small New Zealand town of Akaroa is comparable to the South of France is a bold statement to make, especially since to many, the South of France is one of the most luxurious vacation destinations in the world.

But I am here to do the unthinkable and make the statement that Akaroa offers everything (and more) that the South of France is famous for. 

Culture:

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Eze, South of France

South of France: The laid back French way of life can be experienced walking along the harbor en route to an espresso and croissant. The cities in the South of France have a quiet and rustic atmosphere that provides a peaceful vacationing experience. Just make sure you have mastered the basics of French language to avoid hostility among the proud Parisians.

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Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa:It is a common misconception that the British were the first western civilizations to discover New Zealand. In fact, French whalers were the first explores to set up base in Akaroa. And to this day, French influence still remains throughout the streets of this old whaling port. Just like in the South of France, you can take a stroll along the harbour on Rue Laverend and enjoy an espresso and croissant at a water front cafe. And the zen-like atmosphere that is found in the South of France is intensified in Akaroa with the “stress-free” kiwi mindset. And locals are also a lot more forgiving if you haven’t mastered the French language yet

Landscape:

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Sainte Tropez, South of France

South of France: The  rolling hills lined with French villas and sparkling blue waters filled with yachts galore is what makes the South of France so special. 

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Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa: Also boasting a landscape of rolling hills and sparkling blue waters, Akaroa has been dubbed the most scenic place in the Banks Peninsula. And catching the landscape in the early morning makes it even all the more spectacular.

Beaches:

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Nice, South of France

South of France: In addition to beautiful villas and super yachts, the South of France also offers the magic of the Mediterranean ocean–warm water and sandy beaches (except for Nice, which has rocky ones). But with this also comes the risk of most likely having to share this slice of paradise with hundreds of other beach goers. 

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Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa: Okay, so the South of France might win in regards to water temperature, because the water in Akaroa is notoriously cold (perks of being so close to Antartica!). But Akaroa makes up for this with its private beaches. Accessible via a kayak or boat, there are both sandy and rocky beaches that you can enjoy in total seclusion! Added bonus, it is highly likely you will encounter a dolphin or penguin out on the water. 

Cuisine:

South of France: France is known for its splendid cuisine and superior wines. And in the South of France these delicacies can be enjoyed at the beach clubs. It’s hard to beat a selection of crepes other savories with a glass of proseco to compliment the salty taste of the sea.

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Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa: The best fish and chip shop offers a top-selection of battered fish, oysters and burgers (and with the best vegetarian burger you can ever have also available) is available to eat on the water front. But Akaroa also offers some fine dining experiences that feel as though you are in France! With a vineyard in the hills, you can enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in a rustic courtyard that had all the South of France feels. 

The annual bike race:

South of France: The Tour de France very well may be the most popular cycling event in the world. And chances are that if you are in the South of France towards the end of June you will get to see the event live!

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Nice, South of France

Akaroa: While it may not be as globally known like the Tour de France, every year Akaroa hosts Le Race, a 100km bike race from Christchurch to Akaroa, with the last 30km being a tough uphill challenge. But to the hundreds of competitors, it is well worth the views and spectator support when crossing the finish line by the water.

Viewpoints:

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Eze, South of France

South of France: One of the most scenic views on the French coastline is found in Eze, in which the magical contrast of rock and water will take your breath away. One glance from the top of Eze will make it difficult for any other viewpoint to beat. 

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Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa: in my humble opinion, Akaroa offers one of the few points in the world that can compete with Eze. Seemingly untouched by humans or wealth, the birds eye view of  is one that will surely make you fall in love with the French-influenced town of Akaroa.

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A Weekend Escape to Paris

I am a firm believer that travel and friends are the best remedies for a stressed soul, and with Paris only being a six hour train ride from my home base in Munich, there seemed to be no better option than to go to the city of love and lights for a much needed weekend getaway.

Taking the midnight train, I arrived at the Gare de Est train station to a sunshine-filled Friday morning and a giant hug from one of my dearest friends.

There is no better way to start off a morning in Paris than with an indulgence of French-toast and girl talk. So it was straight from the train station to Rue Bonaparte for a Parisian brunch at Laduree.

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The elaborate and colorful decorations of Laduree provide the perfect setting for an afternoon of mouth-watering breakfast foods, pastries, and tea.

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Next, it was off to wander the streets of Paris. The city is world-renowned for their classic and unique architecture.

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During my past trips to Paris I had admired these buildings from the street-side view, looking up at the charcoal-white apartments and their windowsills lined with colorful flowers. This time however, I was lucky enough to admire the architecture from the top floor of a traditional Parisian building, and the view of the endless smoke-stacks has been the most charming of all views.

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Located in the Montmartre Quarter, I got to wake up to a window view of the beautiful basilica called Sacre Coeur on the left side of the apartment and the Eifel Tower and Notre Dame from the right side.

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One of the best ways to really understand a city is to just explore the off-set streets. An hour into our stroll, we happened-upon one of the most charming restaurants, called La Maison Rose.

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Not only did the pink-colored building contrasted against the vine covered apartment buildings instantly capture my heart, but the tranquility that this residential area offered lured us in to sit at the restaurants pastel-pink tables. Typical options for lunch in France consist of omelets or salads, and after enjoying a rather savory meal, I was eager to compliment it with a sweet dessert.

I love Paris for many reasons, but the number one reason is for their selection of delicate pastries. It is impossible for me to pass any of the pastry shops without being immediately drawn to the window to gaze at the colorful selection of éclairs, tortes, macarons, napoleons, opera cakes, and the many more beautifully hand-crafted desserts.

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Of all of the pastry shops I went into over the weekend (and there were quite a few!), my absolute favorite has to be the famous Café Pouchkine—a Russian inspired shop that showcases pastries that look more like miniature works of art!unnamed (9)unnamed (10)

The best part of eating at Café Pouchkine is that they complement the pastry of your choice with a home-brewed tea. I narrowed down the choices to these two pastries: the diadema and rozoveya.

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On Boulevard Saint Germain is not only Café Pouchkine, but also the Ralph Lauren department store, and much to my surprise and excitement, Ralph Lauren’s restaurant—Ralph’s.

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Set in the beautiful courtyard of the store, Ralph’s offers a secluded and peaceful escape from the busy Parisian streets. And just like Laduree, Ralph’s offers the perfect atmosphere for brunch with girlfriends.

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But Parisian food isn’t always meant to be eaten in the cafes. It is really common to walk through Paris and see locals sitting on park benches with a pastry in hand, while enjoying the afternoon sunshine. So later that day (honestly, more like two hours after I  had finished my first pastry of the day), I ate my second pastry—a tarte aux freises—in the Jardin du Luxembourg in one of the many lawn chairs available for seating.

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As was probably noted in my excited and elaborate description of the restaurant La Maison Rose, I love the color pink. So one could imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon the department store Printemps —which was covered completely in pink decorations for their 150th anniversary.

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After exploring the eight floors full of elaborate pink flowered decorations, I made it to the terrace—which offered a spectacular 360 degree sky view of Paris. While I had enjoyed the views from the top of the Eifel Tower in the past, this terrace view was a more enjoyable view due to the calmer and less crowded atmosphere. You can also indulge in a rooftop drink during the day or at night.

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Another discovery in Paris was Fouchen, a store right by the Madeline that is host to a wide range of Parisian delicacies:  macaroons, madelines, carmelized chestnuts, chocolate truffles, heart-shaped pralines, and the most incredible collection of loose-leaf teas. Samples of each tea is laid out in clear containers and one simply has to walk by before being overwhelmed by the beautifully variety of incense. Once choosing a tea of your liking, a store attendee will scoop your selection from a larger tub and into your individual bag. My personal selection was a white chocolate caramel chai—the smell from the bag alone is enough to satisfy any of my sweet-cravings.

But it is not just the city center of Paris that is full of beauty and history. At the metro stop Port Dauphine lies the Bois du Boulogne.

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This park has been in Paris since Napoleon III had the idea to create it in 1852 and was inspired from Hyde Park in London.  A large oval lake lies in the middle of this park, which is full of swans, row boats that can be rented until 5 P.M., and locals jogging around the lake’s surrounding path. It is a refreshing experience to be outside of the busy city for a few hours, but with a direct view of the Eifel tower through the trees, there is still the reminder that this natural escape is only a few miles away from one of the most historical European cities.

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As special as exploring Paris during the day can be, nothing beats the magic of Paris at night. During the summer, the sun doesn’t set until after 9P.M., and the best way to enjoy it is while walking along the Seine.

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Walking past the Louvre and Palais de Justice in contrast with the locals dining at small local restaurants adds to the beauty of the orange and pink skies. One can’t help to feel the beauty of love in this city while walking across the Pont des Art bridge while watching the lights on the Eifel Tower start to turn the lights on.

But the real Parisian magic happens once the sun has completely gone down—especially in the area surrounding the Eifel Tower.

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There are different opinions about the light show that takes place every hour on the Eifel Tower from sundown until 1A.M.—but I am among those who absolutely love it. It is easy to sit on the park grass for hours staring at the twinkling tour while surrounded by hundreds of couples in love. I have witnessed a proposal every time I have visited the Eifel tower—and as cliché as it may be—it is absolutely beautiful and emotional to watch those happy couples.

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The real magic of Paris is that it is not just the city of romantic love; it is also host to the love that comes from friendship, travel, history, beauty, and indulging in really amazing sweets!

How to vacation in France:

Chateaus with exquisite wine, beautiful countryside that meet the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, and of course endless amounts of Crepes and Fromage (cheese): no wonder my host family spends three weeks holiday in France every year!

But the destinations that my host family go to are almost all without airports, so that meant we covered nearly 3/4th of France with three fighting and screaming children in the backseats. But hey—a worthwhile endeavor as the reward was all the French wine that my heart desired!

Our first stop on the road trip: Reims.

Reims

Reims, or as I like to refer to it—land of Champagne—is a girls dream! A charming and quiet city with the finest Champagne in all the world available at every corner. My host dad had booked the kids and I to spend the night at the five star hotel Chateau Le Crayeres, and it looked like a castle fit for a princess! And as upscale as this hotel is, they were extremely friendly towards the kids! Xavi even got pulled on the suitcase all the way up to our room!

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The hotel room was just as impressive as the exterior of the hotel. It had the most spectacular view!

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After jumping up and down on the bed for a few minutes with the kids out of excitement, we all quickly got changed and headed to dinner downstairs

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All of the guests were dressed in black-tie attire and beautiful crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. We were treated to a superb five-course meal and the best champagne I have ever had!

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The next morning we awoke for an early afternoon tour of the Pommery Chateau.

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After the death of Louise Pommery’s husband, she took control of the estate and dug over 12 miles of underground cellars which could hold up to 20 million bottles in a controlled temperature environment—a model that many other Champagne houses later copied.  We had a thirty minute tour of the cellars, which explained the process of making champagne (which is the mixing of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay). We also learned that it can only be called “Champagne” if the grapes grow and are fermented in the Champagne region.

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Afterwards we all got to indulge in a Champagne tasting.  But don’t worry, it was just fruit juice for the kiddies!

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Next we went to explore the city center of Reims, which was basically deserted due to French holidays. But that made for a very peaceful exploration of the Notre-Dame de Reims, where all of the former French kings were crowned.

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After letting the kids ride on the carousal nearly twenty times, and indulging in one too many crepes,  we were back in the car for a six hour journey to the Bretagne region, with Sainte-Cast being our end destination.

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Sainte-Caste:

Sainte-Caste is in the very northern tip of France, and basically inaccessible by anything but car. But it is worth the effort to get there, as the whole city is picturesque, from the grey brick houses surrounded by bright pink hibiscus flowers that sit high on the cliffs to the laid back harbor atmosphere.

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But the beaches are my favorite part of this idyllic sea-town (which is no surprise if you know me). Plage Sainte-Cast le Guildo are really unique because of the tides. In the morning the tide would be nearly reaching the beach-side cafés. But throughout the day the water goes so far back, probably over 1KM, so that the beach seems to have nearly quadrupled in size! When this happens, the muscle-farms become visible, and it is quite a sight! The kids and I spent much of our free time building sandcastles, swimming in the ocean, and chasing (or running from) crabs.

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If you are a golf-fanatic, this beach is especially great because there is a 18-hole golf course right on the beach! So after a long day in the sun and sand, the kids and I would meet their dad and grandfather for apple cider—which is a local specialty—and watch the sunset.

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But because Sainte-Caste is so far up north, the weather is unpredictable. What seems like a perfectly clear and sunny day can turn into a stormy one in an instant. But even in the more depressing weather, the city still holds its charm.

But there are a lot more things that Sainte-Caste has to offer other than the superb beaches!

On one of the days I woke up with my host family to go on an early morning fishing expedition. We sat in a little boat for four hours, and unfortunately the weather was horrible and TT and I got sea sick. But after a quick nap in the back of the car after arriving back to land, we were feeling well enough to indulge in several crepes for lunch.

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We also discovered a high ropes course called Sainte-Caste Avnture that is suitable for both kids and adults. It was so cool—a forest full of high rope courses and ziplines.  But don’t be fooled by my smile, I was actually terrified the entire time!

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After seven days in Sainte-Caste it was another twelve hour car ride to the South of France!

Sainte-Maxime:

When most people think of the South of France, they think of Sainte-Tropez with its huge yachts, and lots of celebrities and partying. But a fifteen minute ferry ride from Sainte-Tropez will bring you to the quiet and not-as-glitzy city of Sainte-Maxime.

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I spent a week with the family at their villa, which had the most spectacular view! Most mornings were spent lounging around the pool and visiting their good friend Julian, who owned  the bakery Maitre Julian right down the street.If you want a real french baker experience, go there. The food there is phenomenal!

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After an hour of indulging in croissants, Pain au Chocolats, Palmiers, and Madeleines, we were off to the Mahai beach club for the rest of the day! I even got all three of the kids to swim out to the buoys with me!

When the sun started to set we would go into the center of town and go to the Fiori di Gelato for an afternoon pick-me-up!

On the last day in Sainte-Maxime we all decided to go to Laser Quest Frejus and have an adults vs kids laser tag match! Adults won, of course.

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A Splurge in Paris

I arrived in Paris for a second time this summer to re-unite with my teammate Diedre and her friend Megan for the week! I was fresh off of 12 hours of traveling from Edinburgh, so needless to say, I did not have the most appropriate appearance for Paris when I got off the bus.

So as soon as I was “Paris -ready”, we headed off to Laudere for a late brunch. I ordered their cinnamon french toast, which was the most incredible and mouth-watering breakfast I had had while in Europe. Granted, I hadn’t eaten a real meal in the past 24 hours, but nevertheless, this french toast was as close as it gets to perfection. We then splurged on a box of macaroons from their bakery. (While 5 euros a cookie seems pretty ridiculous, a trip to Laudere is not complete with out purchasing at least one. I suggest the raspberry. )
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That evening the three of us decided to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. Climbing 150 meters worth of stairs was not as daunting as it should have been, as the adrenaline I had while watching the city get smaller and smaller distracted me from the tiredness that was overtaking my legs. Right as we reached the top I saw a man propose to his girlfriend. It was such a beautiful moment and the three of us just stared and admired them for the next twenty minutes (no exaggeration).
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The next morning I met up with my Australian friend Alex, whom I had met in Budapest a couple of months earlier. We decided to go do a tour of Champagne, France for the day. If anyone wants a good recommendation on a day-trip from Paris, this is definitely the place to go. The city is about an hour from Paris, and is a really nice and quite escape from the busy streets of Paris. And on top of that, you will have easy access to the best champagne in the world!!
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However, Alex and I did this trip through a tour, and we were the youngest by far! The rest of the group was made up of adorable seventy year old couples, besides an Aussie friend we made named Matt.

The best part of the tour was getting to go in the cellars of Moet & Chandon. I felt so sophisticated, and lucky, to be able to tour such a prestigious place. One glass of champagne had me feeling pretty tipsy and wishing that my wallet could always afford this delicious brand.
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When we returned back to Paris, Matt, Alex, and I decided to go out for a quick dinner. After splurging all afternoon, it was quite the downgrade to settle for a cheap Chinese restaurant where the sushi tasted like Styrofoam. But the company was great and it felt so nice to have made new friends.

That evening I met up with Deidre and Megan at the hotel. It was the perfect Parisian hotel–the room was covered with floral wallpaper and had a balcony that overlooked the Eiffel Tower. This was the first time in the last 70 days that I had had a room all to myself! The next day I went to Gare du Nord to book my train ticket to Barcelona. Usually Parisians have a reputation for being rude to tourists. So when the ticket lady told me that the trains to Barcelona the next day were completely full, I expected the worst. But she ended up spending the next 40 minutes trying to find an alternative route out and handed me a ticket that left the next day!

Afterwards I met Deidre and Megan at a local pastry shop to do some shopping around the city. This was quite an accomplishment for me, as I managed to find them without a phone and without a map or GPS. I solely relied on asking locals for directions (and once again, busting the stereotype that all Parisians are rude to tourists).

After an afternoon of shopping, the three of us spent the afternoon at a Hammam attached to the local mosque. For three hours we relaxed in saunas and were treated to an exfoliation, massages,and mint honey tea. We ended the night with having dinner a local Parisian restaurant by La Seine.

Paris is supposed to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. While I did not have a significant other to share it with, I was blessed to get to explore the city with some pretty amazing friends. The next day I headed off to Barcelona to start my 10 day tour through the coast of Spain before heading back home!
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