Nov 9, 2014

Destinations: Explorateur


One of the reasons Paris is a popular place for ex-pats (Pippa has just been learning about alliteration, and I like that last phrase) is that it's such a central, convenient hub to Europe, and to so many destinations in general. So you would be surprised how little the French seem to take advantage of that.

When we come back from London, one of our French acquaintances -- who speaks English and has lived in Paris all her life -- says, "Oh! How was that? I've never been there." It's like people who've lived in New York City all their lives and never been to the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty. It's an easy train ride away, cheap if you buy in advance, and is one of the great cities of the world. And with all the days off in France, she's never found a long weekend to pop over and explore?

And we just popped back from Northern Ireland -- 150€ airfaire round trip (even last minute!), 13€ daily car rental. Beautiful, interesting, fun, delicious, easy trip, on which we get to see the Giant's Causeway (natural rock phenomenon) that I've always wanted to see. The only Parisians we've found that have ever been there is one other American family living in Paris. We heard virtually no French while there, which seems to confirm this.

I'm not saying the French don't go anywhere; of course they do. For the most part, they go to visit their families or second homes in the countryside. From Paris, there's a lot of Bretagne/Normandie and also Bourgogne (Burgundy), all convenient car rides away. They head down to the Mediterranean Coast, for sunshine and beaches, and they head to the Jura/Alps for mountains and skiing.

Those that cross national borders tend to go to the same destinations. You hear it over and over: Spain (especially Barcelona), Portugal (South, the beaches), Italy (anywhere), Belgium for a weekend, and sometimes London (though not that one acquaintance, evidently).


Then there are some that seem more surprising, like Croatia, and Morocco. But they make sense in their own way. Croatia falls in the Greece, Majorca, Ibiza clump of vacationing: hot and beachy. It's like a trip to the Cote d'Azur times ten. And Morocco falls in the former-colonies-or-overseas-territories-where-they-speak-French category, along with Reunion, Senegal, and Tahiti (but these are much rarer destinations since they're so far). Oddly, I feel like more French people go to Morocco than to England. I suspect this is not statistically true, but I'm speaking anecdotally here.

We, however, are not saddled with a) fears of having to speak English, b) one location in France in which we are obliged to visit family, or c) French tradition or cultural expectations. And since we are living in Europe for a limited time in our lives, we want to experience as much as possible. So far, we have explored:

In France: Bretagne, Normandie, Bourgogne, the Dordogne, Provence, the Jura/Alps (everybody but Pippa, but not all at the same time), Languedoc-Roussillon, the Vendée, the Loire, and Alsace. Still on our wish-list: Champagne, more of the Atlantic Coast (Nantes, La Rochelle, and down to Biarritz); the swath in the middle (Limousin/Auvergne), and specific places like Marseilles, Toulouse, Annecy, and Corsica (for me at least, Anthony's been there).

Outside of France: Belgium, the Netherlands (but not Amsterdam yet, with the kids), Germany, Switzerland, Italy (northern), Croatia, Spain, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Turkey, Morocco, Senegal, and even India. I've managed to write some of them up, but have been too busy traveling, planning to travel, and catching up from everything I missed while traveling to write up the rest.

Still to come, whether planned or just on somebody's wish list: southern Italy (Rome, etc), the Scotland-Wales-and-non-London-England triumvirate, Austria, Greece (less enticing, having just done Turkey), Scandinavia, Tunisia (this one's all me), Prague & Budapest, Malta & Mediterranean isles, and possibly Portugal (with the girls, but Anthony and I have already been there).

Astoundingly, even living in a near-constant state of vacations, due to the 6-weeks-on-2-weeks-off school schedule and many national holidays, we just don't have enough time (or money! or energy!) to see and do it all. But we're happily trying. We're making good use of our proximity to Charles de Gaulles and Orly airports, and are doing all we can to avoid going in and out of Beauvais (technically a Paris-area airport, and great for cheap fares, but so annoyingly inconvenient). But, if you've been reading, you know I only fly when I have to, because so many of these places are wonderfully, blissfully accessible by train.

THE CHEESE: Explorateur

Explorateur is a raw cows' milk cheese from Aube, which is a department in the Champagne-Ardenne region, just east of Paris. A relatively new cheese, made only since World War II, Explorateur is related to a Chaource, both in geographical origin and manufacturing method, during which it's matured for about 2-3 weeks in a dry cellar. It's also similar in end result, style, texture, and taste to a Chaource.

That is to say that it's delicious. No, not delicious. Really, really extraordinary. No, wait. That doesn't quite do it justice. We serve this at a party with about 20 people, including Chef Nathan Lyon, and it's one of the favorites singled out by everybody -- generally loudly, excitedly, with a lot of moaning. Basically, it's a cheese-gasm.

Like a Chaource, it's a buttery stack of cream and cholesterol. I love it. With just the right amount of salt and sweet cream, and the ooze under the white crust, it's heaven on a plate.


Not being limited by language or tradition or fear of the unknown, we've been exploring every destination we can!



  1. I just came back after completeing my kissimmee to boca raton trip before this tour I have been visited France only for one week. France is an awesome region to visit all over the world. It attracts thousands of people due to its pretty and stunning attractions. I really like this state due to its attractive natural beauty and its lavender fields. If you want to see the beauty of these fields must go there in spring.


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