From the category archives:

French Tourism

Flying to France

June 20, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from the Oakland Airport! Our bags are checked. We’ve gone through security. Water bottles are filled. Snacks are at hand. We have about 30 minutes till our flight boards. Then it’s on to Paris, France!

But before we get to France, we have a longish layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Ben Blair and I spent a lovely week in Sweden two summers ago, but our kids have never been, so we’re hoping to take a little adventure while we’re there. Then, we have a short flight to Paris. Our flight arrives around 8:30 in the evening; we’ll rent a car and head straight to a hotel for the night (with a possible fieldtrip to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle). Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to Normandy — it’s about a 3 hour drive to our destination.

That’s a lot of different stops and transitions in a short time — I’ve tried to forewarn the kids that they are very likely going to feel crabby and impatient before we actually get to our destination. But it’s worth it: Two whole months of our family being together. Heaven!

We’re all super excited. Lots of reminiscing and anticipation going on — we’ve been going through our old travel photos and watching some of the Olive Us videos we filmed in France (like Betty in Paris).

Crossing our fingers for smooth travel! Feel free to follow along on Instagram.

P.S. — I did my first Facebook Live video cast just before we left the house today. I gave a little tour of our master bedroom and bath — it’s going to be transformed while we are away! So if you want a peek at the “before” you can check it out.


By Gabrielle. Images by Ben Blair.

Oh man. This episode is an epic one. Here’s a little back story. When people visit the region of Normandy (which is where we lived in France, and where our little cottage is), the number one thing they want to see is Mont St. Michel. And while we were there, we visited this legendary island at least a dozen times.

Every time we approached, there was this moment where we all of a sudden notice the castle-looking structure off in the distance — across fields of sheep — and our breath catches. And then, as we get closer and closer, there is this feeling of wonder.

We loved visiting Mont St. Michel, wandering it’s tiny street and stairways, walking along the beach and exploring the boulders that surround the whole island, sitting quietly in the Abbey garden at the very top, taking in the views on the approach, and the views from high up on the mount. It’s a special place.


So we weren’t too surprised when we learned it was one of the key pilgrimage sites for Christians. Makes sense! When we found out our local friend (and knowledgeable historian), Mark, had made the week long pilgrimage several times — going by foot from our town of Argentan to Mont St. Michel, and staying in gites (which are homes in the countryside that rent out a room for the night) along the way, we were intrigued! The idea of making a pilgrimage, a walking one, with a slow approach, was so appealing to both me and Ben Blair, and we talked about it a lot, and I wrote a post about it here.

Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us

So getting to film this episode was simply a treasure. Mark acted as our guide, finding the prettiest routes and giving history lessons as we went. As you’ll notice in the episode, we learned that King Arthur legends have a place in Normandy as well as England, and that some people believe Arthur is buried along the pilgrimage trail — visiting his possible burial site was such an experience!

I feel like there’s so much I could share about this video, but for now, I just hope you watch it and enjoy it.

And if you’ve ever visited Mont St. Michel, I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to know if anyone out there has made a religious pilgrimage before. Pilgrimages aren’t really a part of my religious upbringing, but they hold such an appeal for me. I hope to make one some day!

Click here for more images from the shoot!


By Gabrielle.

This is number 4 out of five posts in this mini-series about our time in France (here are posts one, two and three). It covers the months of August 2012 through January 2013, and includes trips to London, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Paris and Venice.

These months were not so long ago and the memories are still really fresh! It was wonderful to relive our adventures as I wandered through my archives.

I think I’ll get right to it.

Before we were done with jet lag from our month in the U.S., we jumped in the car for a road trip to the London Olympics. An amazing trip!

Shortly after our trip, my Grandma Rudi passed away. : (

We started looking at French cottages. And then we got more serious about the search.

We spent some of our August afternoons at the beach. And we expanded the Design Mom team.

I went to New York for the first Alt Summit NYC. Full report here.

A few hours after I arrived home from New York, we once again jumped in the car for a spontaneous road trip — this time to Switzerland! Mini report here. Full report here (plus 6 tips for last minute road trips). And don’t forget Swiss stacked wood!

Keep reading. More adventures ahead!



By Gabrielle.

Here is the 3rd report (of five) in my Adventures in France mini-series (here’s number one and two). This covers February through July of 2012. The thing that stands out to me about this report is the Olive Us series. We started that project fairly casually during this time period, and had no idea what a life-changer it would become for us.

I hope you enjoy the report!

We celebrated Chandeleur (the French crepe-eating holiday that was replaced by Groundhog Day in the U.S.). Experienced a rare Normandy snow day. Survived a frozen-pipes-record-breaking-cold-spell.

We talked more about French parenting. We learned about La Petite Souris (a little mouse that comes to French children instead of the toothfairy). And we talked about how French kids eat everything.

I introduced Love the Place You Live and shared images of a chapel turned art space and gathering space.

We visited a lesser known WWII site called Mount Ormel. This is very close to where we lived and was the location of the last battle before the Allies marched down the Champs Élysées, freeing Paris.

More adventures ahead!


The First Six Months

July 15, 2013


Images and text by Gabrielle.

I know. I know. I need to stop talking about moving. But I can’t help it! It’s taking up every square inch of my brain at the moment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve occasionally felt a pang of regret at some small thing we haven’t done during our time in France. And finally, I had to stop and remind myself that we absolutely jumped in with both feet and have taken advantage of every possible opportunity. No regrets!

I thought it would be fun to write up a mini-series of posts covering some of the adventures we’ve had since we moved here. It’s been a nice round 2 1/2 years, I’m going to break it into 5 posts covering 6 months each. I hope you enjoy the mini-series. And thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane!

la cressonniere hallway

We flew to France on February 1st, 2011. And started to get to know the house, La Cressonnière — we introduced the tree house, we shared the halfbath (I still find it so charming!), we shared Olive’s bedroom, too. But it actually turned out to be Ralph’s room, when he suddenly outgrew the bed in his first room! We talked about the floors, and showed off the gorgeous kitchen. We also learned more about the artists that worked in the studio here at La Cressonnière.

french ceramic yogurt container

We started to explore our community — we learned to shop for food in France, and discovered our first French licorice. We gave our initial French school report, we met our neighbors, and started discovering French clothing stores for kids. Oh. And we discovered the yogurt aisle!

chateau carrouges

We found a castle very near our home. We started exploring brocantes. We were amazed at the countryside covered in wild daffodils.

Winged Victory eiffel tower picnic

And we started exploring further from home as well. We spent our first touristy weekend in Paris as a family — day number one & day number two.

Keep reading for more adventures from our first 6 months in France.


Visit to Chartres03

Images and text by Gabrielle (and some images by Ben Blair, too).

We’re in our last 5 weeks of living here, and though we have no big trips on our schedule (until the big trip home), we’ve been considering a couple of Saturday day-trips to local destinations. No matter how much we’ve seen, it seems like there is always another intriguing place to explore! For example, we haven’t been to the white elephant rock of Etratat yet, and we’ve heard Bagnoles de l’Orne is definitely worth a visit.

Visit to Chartres16

Anyway, we started talking about our favorite spots that are within a couple of hours of our town, and it reminded me that I never shared our photos from our field trip to Chartres — the world-famous cathedral that’s about an hour away from Paris.

Visit to Chartres12 Visit to Chartres13

Visit to Chartres14

So I thought today would be a perfect day for a little report.

Click through for more photos and details about our visit.


Happy Memorial Day

May 27, 2013

American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France

Image and text by Gabrielle.

This is the 3rd Memorial Day we’ve spent in France. Last year, it aligned with a French holiday, so we had Monday off. But this year, the kids are in school, the stores are open, and it’s business as usual today. How about you, are you enjoying a 3-day weekend? Were you able to do anything meaningful to commemorate the holiday?

I’m reposting this image from last year because it’s one of my favorites. I snapped it during Memorial Day weekend at the American Military Cemetery here in Normandy. For the holiday, the caretakers placed an American and French flag at every single one of the 10,000+ graves.

The cemetery is always a humbling place to visit, but seeing those carefully placed flags waving in the ocean breeze just about did me in.

Happy Memorial Day to you and yours. Wishing you happy gatherings with friends and family! And a perfectly grilled burger. : )


Honfleur & Deauville

May 2, 2013

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

This post is about Honfleur and Deauville. Two neighboring towns here in Normandy that we never tire of visiting. We’ve been to both many times, but the photos in this post are from a visit last May. Spring in Normandy is very wet, and often cold, so when the sun comes out, you can bet we take advantage of it.

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

These first images show Honfleur. It’s a small fishing port that is big on charm. And the light here is so remarkable that it won’t surprise you to hear this little town is considered the birthplace of impressionism. In fact, it’s not unusual at all to see painters with easels set up near the water, capturing the boats and flags and sails on their canvases.

Honfleur, France | Design Mom Honfleur and Deauville14

We’ve been told there are particular things to do in Honfleur — churches to visit and towers to climb — but we’ve never done any of them. Instead, we like to walk through the narrow side streets, window shopping, and stopping for ice cream. We might ride the port-side carousel or watch the boats come in. And then we’ll eat a late lunch or early dinner at one of the touristy restaurants that line the wharf — there are a dozen to pick from.

Keep reading — the umbrellas of Deauville are ahead!


Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

The Loire Valley is the region along the Loire River, a little south and west of Paris. It’s famed for its numerous castles that tower above the river. And lucky for us, driving to the region only takes about an hour and a half from our house.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

So last year, on the last Sunday of May we hopped in the car after church and made a day trip of it. Our goal was to see two castles and to get a general sense for the region. We knew one day wasn’t really enough time, but figured a day trip would almost be like a scouting mission for a longer trip. The first castle we stopped at was Chateau Chenenceau.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

Some castles are more kid-friendly than others, and this one is probably the most family-friendly that we’ve visited — lots of options for roaming and free-ranging, and the weekend we were there, it wasn’t too busy at all.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

There are gardens to explore, bridges and moats, a grand checker-board hall with views of the river, and on the way out we explored the garden maze and had a little picnic. Also. We took a TON of photos. So please forgive me if this feels like a photo dump. : ) Hopefully it will be helpful for anyone out there who’s considering a visit to the Loire.

Read more and see tons of photos from our daytrip — click here.


By Gabrielle. Instagram shot by Ben Blair.

Oh my goodness you guys. This one is for all the Paris lovers and dreamers out there. I can not wait for you to see this episode! It feels magical to me. I could just watch it forever. I love seeing such a magnificent place through a child’s eyes.

When we move back to the U.S., I’m positive we’ll watch this movie every time we get homesick for France. (Try it on vimeo if it’s not playing for you here.)

You can find out a little backstory about this episode here, and for those who are curious, Betty’s pom pom hat and over-the-knee socks are from Tea Collection. Please tell me you love the video as much as I do!

P.S. — Huge thanks to Tiger in a Jar for the gorgeous footage, to Merrilee Liddiard for the beautiful title illustration, and to our friend Caroline for helping out the entire time!


french pharmacy picks

By Gabrielle.

I’ve been working my way through the French Pharmacy list that Gwyneth Paltrow made. You can find report #1 here and report #2 here. I’ve got four more products to tell you about today. Three are from the Goop list, and one is a recommendation from my friend, Caroline (it’s my favorite!).

First up, Caudalie Premières Vendages. Gwyneth describes this as an excellent basic daily moisturizer and I fully agree. Though I actually don’t use it daily, because I like to use a moisturizer with spf. But I’ve found this little tube perfect for travel! It’s just the right size and comes in flexible packaging that won’t shatter. I love applying a layer as a flight lands. It has a fresh, clean scent and leaves my skin with a not-too-shiny glow.

Click here for 3 more picks.


Not long after we moved here, when we’d driven around a bit, we noticed signs that said Haras du [fill in the blank], all over the place. When we inquired about them, we were told they indicated horse breeding farms, and that the horse-breeding capital for all of France was right here in the town of Argentan. It’s called Haras du Pin. (You can pronounce is Huh-rah-do-pan.)

I can’t wait to tell you about our visit, but first, I need to apologize. I intended to write about William the Conquerer’s Castle in Caen for this post, because we spent Saturday in Caen running errands. But I didn’t get any photos! Not one. So I’m sharing our visit to Haras du Pin instead. It happened one year ago this very month. So the good news is: at least the photos look seasonal. : )

Click here to learn about Haras du Pin, and add your own link!


A Few Things

August 17, 2012

Hello, Friends! Are you ready for the weekend? We have plans to do some school shopping on Saturday, and Sunday is our wedding anniversary. Hooray! We still haven’t decided how to celebrate, but I’m not worried because you really can’t go wrong hanging out with Ben Blair. Everything is better when he’s around!

While we brainstorm some anniversary date night ideas, here are a few things I hope you’ll enjoy:

- Hey! It’s time for another round of Love the Place You Live. Do something cool and local this weekend and then let’s all link up on Monday. It’s fun, I promise!

- Missing the Olympics? Check out this neat artwork.

- A man, a pink tutu, and the fight against cancer = The Tutu Project. Awesome. (Thanks, Karey.)

- This year, I vow to plant an indoor herb garden.

- First Day of School sign.

- Shared bedroom for 2 girls + a boy. [Update: if the link to the blog post isn't working, you can also go to Stephmodo's main url and scroll down.]

- Maniacal movie laughs. (PrincessBride is my favorite.)

- I’m giving away a year’s supply of products from the Orla Kiely + Method Collection on Facebook. Go see!

And here are 3 (super speedy) slideshows I posted on Babble:

- Stylish shelf displays. (Have you noticed, shelves are on my mind these days?)

- Smart solutions for organizing your bathroom.

- 23 No-Sew projects you’ll love.

Have a fabulous weekend and soak up those August rays! Fall will be here oh so soon. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — It rains a lot here, so we try to take advantage of the sunny days. One of our favorite sunny day places is Deauville beach — and the colorful umbrellas!


Hooray! Here’s episode 5 of Olive Us. In this one, viewers will get a little cultural lesson — and maybe even learn a few French words — while Olive, Betty and Ralph demonstrate how to properly visit a French Bakery. A tiny warning: you may want to watch on a full stomach. : )

Bon appetit!


Shopping basket from Kayce Hughes.
Betty’s blouse, dress, and cardigan from Olive Juice Kids.
Olive’s skirt and sweater from Olive Juice Kids.
Ralph’s outfit from his closet. (Yes. He totally wears scarves.)


For this month’s Love the Place You Live column, we visited a Vide Grenier — which is basically a community wide rummage sale. But this one was in a tiny village called Avoines that neighbors our own tiny village, and though we didn’t know many people there, it felt much like an event in our own neighborhood. We had a great time and came home with a few silly trinkets.

My favorite purchase was a handful of ceramic feves, the little tokens that are baked into King Cake. I bought several of both the white and colorful versions. Only 10 centimes each! I though they would make a fun souvenir. Or be little good-luck tokens to keep in your pocket on special days — like a big test day.

The vide grenier was centered around the town’s Mairie office. Even the tiniest villages have their own Mayor here in France, though this village is so tiny it doesn’t have a store or school or bakery or post office. Outside the Mairie, there were tables and benches set up for picniking, and there was a booth selling hot sandwiches and frites. So yummy!

Treasures ahead… Click here to see more pics and add your link!


Last month, before we flew to Rome, we stayed in Paris for couple of days. While we were there, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower with the kids for the first time! I thought I’d share a few helpful tips for any of you with an Eiffel Tower climb in your future. (I hope it’s lots of you!)

Click here to read all 4 kid-friendly tips!


Happy Memorial Day!

May 28, 2012

I snapped this photo on Saturday at the American Military Cemetery here in Normandy. We have visited the cemetery lots of times, but this weekend it was extra-special. An American flag and a French flag were placed on every single one of the 10,000+ graves. Visits to this sacred place are always emotional, but seeing all those flags waving in the ocean breeze brought on the waterworks.

I hope your Memorial Day weekend has been wonderful. Wishing you happy gatherings with friends and family! And hotdogs hot off the grill.



For this Love the Place You Live column, I’m writing about Domain de la Galotière. It’s an apple and pear juice farm about 25 minutes from our house. This region of France produces wonderful apples, pears and all the related products like juice, cider, and a strong drink called calvados. Fun fact: this is the only region of France that doesn’t produce wine. No grapes here, it’s all about apples in Normandy.

The farm couldn’t have been more charming. Every building was made from half timber construction and the whole place was picturesque — down to the friendly dog. The inside of the shop was filled with jams and bottles and baskets and everything you might expect of a country farm. We ended up buying 6 bottles of apple juice and 6 of pear. Confession: we bought the juice on Saturday and we’re down to 1 bottle of apple and 3 bottles of pear today. It’s really good!

Click here to see more images and add your link.


Friends, it’s working. Love the Place You Live is working! Meaning: this column is encouraging me to do some really satisfying local exploring. Which is exactly what I hoped for!

This week, I’m sharing some photos from a nearby brocante/tea salon (brocante = antique shop) called L’Indiscret. I have been meaning to check out this particular brocante since the very first week we moved here. It’s been over a year and I still hadn’t stopped in. Then, last week, when I was thinking about what I should write about for today’s post, I remembered the brocante! So Ben Blair and I dropped in on Saturday.

I was so glad we did! It’s a lovely a place — a cute antique shop up front, with a warehouse full of furniture in the back. The shopkeeper on Saturday was the daughter of the owners. She lives in Paris but comes home on the weekends to help at the brocante. The shop is currently only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the owners dream about retiring from their day jobs and running the shop full-time. I love stories like that!

Click here to see more brocante photos and to add your link.


In January, I gave you a report on some of the items I’ve tried on Gwyneth Paltrow’s French Pharmacy List. Are you ready for installment number 2? First up, let’s talk about:

I love how this feels on my face! It’s actually intended for minor burns and rashes, but those in the know use it as a beauty product too. In fact, look what I read here: Sylvie Tellier, a former Miss France who now runs the Miss France competition, uses Biafine as a face mask. “I love it,” she says. “It makes my skin glow and is really hydrating.” It’s a bargain for a big tube — about $10.

Note: The tube I purchased looks different than the one on Gwyneth’s list, but I was told it was the exact same formula; only the packaging had been updated.

Click here to see 3 more French pharmacy picks.

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