Friends of The Kuotes, I am excited to say that right now I am more inspired than ever. About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to travel with my family to France. There, we toured the country’s coastline and experienced some of the most beautiful architecture, interiors, and landscapes. If you’re familiar with KKH, you know that our products are informed by my travels—whether it’s a small mountainside village in Nepal or an antique market in Paris—and we piece together our curations so you can bring these inspired pieces into your home. While in France, I took some time to write about my travels so I could share my adventures (and some tips!) with all of you. And don’t worry, there are plenty of photos of Will and Maya along the way if you just want to skim for the pictures! Enjoy!
First Stop: Trouville Sur-Mer
Day one, we flew into Paris. The “we” here comprises my husband Scott, my two lovelies, Maya and William, and our nanny. As you may well know, it isn’t a true family vacation unless something goes wrong just moments after your feet hit the red carpeting of the Charles de Gaulle. Pro tip: When traveling internationally with kids, always consider what may happen when the “Audi Q7” you requested turns out to be the size of a miniature Smart Car and you’re a party of five. Out goes the extra clothes, the stroller, and any notion you may have gathered from bloggers and instagrammers that family vacations are picture perfect.
Maya loved all the time we spent on the beach, and I can’t get over Will cruising Euro-style on his mini moped! So cute!
One question you’ll get in Trouville is: Have you tried whelks? They’re a type of sea snail, and we had them cooked au poivre. You’re supposed to eat whelks with “mayonnaise” as the French say—which was such a turn off for me as a New Yorker—but what they’re NOT telling you is that by mayonnaise they actually mean a delicious Dijonnaise. Yes, that’s a thing. And it’s delicious. I decided I wanted to eat everything with Dijonnaise. French fries, potato chips, salad, and yes—snails au povire. Even William, my 2-year-old son, ate four whelks!
“In short, Trouville looks like a charming seaside postcard, complete with French-style Swiss chalets perched next to the beach. And to top it all off, the seafood is naturally abundant and O-M-G delicious.”
Before I finish writing about Trouville, I have to mention the BEST meal I had on the trip…if not in my life! Indulge yourself in a massive plateau de fruits de mer at Cap Oceane. These guys bring the maritime goodies in early in the morning, and by midday (and by midday I mean 10 am.), you’re sipping Petit Chablis, shucking huîtres, cracking crab claws, and chopping down on gambas bigger than your face! The highlight of any European trip for me, however, is to be able to experience white asparagus—which is a must if you see it on the menu or at the morning market. We had it with a simple Dijonnaise again (DUH), but it can be done with a Hollandaise or any other simple vinaigrette. Dessert was a simple fraise à la crème fraîche (strawberries and cream), which is the most elegant dessert one can serve. Why are strawberries this amazing impossible to find in the US???
Second Stop: Bayeux
Many bottles of rosé later, I found myself on my way to Bayeux (We got Maya to remember the name as “Bye-You”). The town is situated upon the Aure river, and it has a historic, medieval feel with its cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and towering cathedrals. Most notable, of course, is the famed Tapisserie de Bayeux. The incredible 68-meter, 11th-century tapestry depicts the 1066 invasion of England by William, the Duke of Normandy. The long version of the story can be found here, but in short: the family drama that led to the Hundred Year War between France and England resulted in one of the most beautiful tapestries known to man.
If you take a look above, you’ll see how the amount of detail and labor that went into its construction is unparalleled. Pro tip: Always get the audioguides for your kids as well as yourself… because if not, they’ll want to take yours and you’ll miss out! Maya’s favorite scene in the tapestry was when the men took their pants off to push their viking-esque ships into the water, and then put their pants back on after they got into the boat. Apparently even in 1066, vanity was still a thing!
Third Stop: Omaha Beach
Although it’s a very emotional location, one of the most beautiful places we visited on our trip was Omaha Beach, perhaps better known as “D-Day Beach,” in Normandy. It’s impossible to arrive here without getting a little overwhelmed as you revisit this turning point in history. We paid a visit to the Omaha beach bunkers and climbed the steep incline as our brave soldiers once did. It was an eerie and surreal moment. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like, seasick and beyond frightened, to trudge over the massive hill, bullets whizzing overhead, heart pounding. We paid our respects to all those that have fallen for our freedom at the memorial and said a few prayers.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Omaha beach is how vast and stunning it is. For such a violent and historic battle, the landscape is strikingly serene: gorgeous wild flowers abundant alongside stretches of wide flat beach. In the distance, we watched as people trained for an upcoming triathlon, swimming against the current in the frigid water. A few casual horseback riders strolled by as we walked. The weather was perfect, and I felt so appreciative of my family. I felt at peace.
Fourth Stop: Fromagerie Durand
Scott and Maya taking in the pastoral views!
If you rack your brain for some of your French 101 vocab, you may know that a fromagerie is where they make…you guessed it: cheese! Fromagerie Durand is a world-renowned farm in Camembert. Here we stopped by to say hello to the world’s cutest French cows. We tasted the freshest 28-day cheese that had just finished ripening, and somehow we got Maya to agree that the stinkiest cheese is actually the most delicious!
Fun Fact: Depending on when you get your Camembert cheese, the taste could be completely different due to the different grasses the cows have been grazing on. The best cheeses are the ones ripened on spring grass, so the June cheeses that we tasted were the best of the year!
Fifth Stop: Honfleur
If you’re looking for the most gorgeous port town—look no further than Honfleur. If you’ve never been, it’s like taking a step back in time to a bustling medieval trade port. We had to shop at their Saint James location to get all of our iconic blue and white striped tops and nautical-inspired foul weather gear. William loves Paddingon the Bear, so naturally he got a nautical yellow raincoat with wool lining and large buckles. Maya got a lamb that she named Mouton. We wrapped the day up with some glacé, crème moulée, and a carousel ride (By the way, almost every town on the coast has a gorgeous carousel. It’s the perfect reprieve for the kids after a long day of walking).
time for some carousel fun!
Sixth Stop: Deauville
We decided to take a quick stop in Deauville, just a 5-minute drive across town from where we were staying in Trouville. Deauville is the “grand chic” sister to Trouville. It’s a high society beach town with lockers reserved for celebrity clients like Orlando Bloom and Mick Jagger. If you have the chance to visit, it’s such a vibrant and lively city to walk around and absorb. Make sure to check out the colorful cabanas that have been made famous by Deauville post cards and the hippodrome that was used for horse races at Hotel Normandy. The Normans are huge into horse racing: watching, bidding, and just as our kids have soccer camp, Norman kids have horse camp!
Seventh Stop: Dinard
We started our drive to Dinard along the Brittany coast and spent three days in medieval France pretending to be pirates and jousters while we chomped on langoustines and Breton fares. Along the way we realized that it would be a perfect opportunity to “casually swing by” Mt. St Michel just in time for the tour buses to leave. Albeit a short stop, the views driving into the town of Mt. St. Michel were breathtaking and well worth it.
We stayed at the lovely Castelbrac, where Jean-Baptiste Charcot lived before he set sail to the South Pole and discovered penguins! This luxury resort is literally carved into the side of a mountain on the water, so you feel like a pirate seeking refuge in the gorgeous coast (aptly named the Côte d’Émeraude due to the sparkling emerald green reflection off the water’s surface). Dinard is a well-heeled resort town that is walking distance to the beach, yet everyone happens to be in pressed white linen. How can you tell you’re in a chic French resort town and NOT an American shore? No flip-flops.
Bonus round: If you’re in Dinard, stop off at nearby Dinan. It’s a beyond charming storybook town that Disney modeled Belle’s town after in Beauty and the Beast.
Eighth Stop: Loire Valley
Next, we drove to the home where we’d be staying for a few days. My jaw DROPPED driving through the long tree-lined driveway as it opened up to the pale blue stucco house. The owners of the house clearly knew a thing or two about interior design, and when we chatted, the owner mentioned that she loved Kathy Kuo Home! A few things I learned about living in Central France: NEVER leave your shutters open during the day when it is hot out, unless you want your home to be cooked from the inside out! Having lived in Asia for years in my youth, I was completely transported back to the time when I had no AC, just a mini Hello Kitty water bottle next to my bed and fan to literally “mist me” through the night. Everyone here keeps the windows and shutters closed during the day time to keep out the harsh sun. Then at night, all shutters and windows are opened. Bats and moths do find a way to get in and, ultimately, out of your house by the end of the night. DEAL WITH IT. I learned that that’s how it works, and sometimes it’s best to just accept what you can’t change!
My jaw DROPPED driving through the long tree-lined driveway as it opened up to the pale blue stucco house. The owners of the house clearly knew a thing or two about interior design, and when we chatted, the owner mentioned that she loved Kathy Kuo Home!
this dining room makes me want to get an oval table right now!
Our first night was challenging since our house manager left the windows closed but the shutters OPEN, so it was a sauna when we got home that evening. When we opened the windows, I swear every bug from our house to Amboise came inside, and there was NOTHING I could do about it except have more wine! However as the night cooled, the house finally regulated, and we could enjoy the evening. Our kids also loved eating with no clothes on! I absolutely loved the look of this home, and I’m so excited to bring all of the inspiration I found here to Kathy Kuo Home!
Ninth Stop: The Chateaux
We came to the Loire to see all the amazing chateaux the region has to offer. We ultimately made it to two. Our first stop was Château de Chenonceau, one of the best known chateaux of the Loire Valley. This beauty stretches thinly across the River et Cher, and it was basically constructed by women (talk about girl power!). These mistresses and queens were forced to live under the same roof and ultimately rule the estate. All the florals inside Chenonceau came from the gardens of the estate as well. Simply stunning!
The second chateau we visited, Château de Chambord, looks like its own city from far away due to its unique architectural spires. I imagine this to be the perfect place for the Lannister’s from Game of Thrones to live: all 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces and 84 staircases. Maya got to drive an electric motor boat through the moat (She’s four by the way and already LOVES to drive.), which afforded us vantage points onto this spectacular hunting lodge by the waterway.
Our last day in the Loire Valley ended with a trip to Mini Chateaux, an “amusement park” where kids can experience the 45 castles of the Loire in 1/25th the size. I was blown away with the quality of the miniature castles, with their perfectly-mini trees and gardens. They even had mini monks perched into the mini abbey. Maya and William were the modern day King Kong’s next to the mini Chenonceau and Chambord. A final trip to another boulangerie with the most epic strawberry meringue, and we were off to our final stop.
Final Stop: Paris
How could we not? Dropping off our car, we checked into the Prince de Galles. I honestly love this hotel. There is so much old world glamour all around you, and it is next to THE George V (which is a Four Seasons). There was constant paparazzi, and the taxi lane in front of our block was reserved for the vintage Ferraris and Aston Martins that Maya managed to ram her stroller into every day. The highlight of the stay is always the service and attention to detail. The GM rushes out to say hi to our kids every time we’re there, and as rowdy and scream-y as my son is, they somehow manage to bring over bonbons always at the right time.
Our short three-day Paris trip was broken up like this: Eat, eat and eat some more. Just kidding. After 2 weeks of rustic French fare, we were craving something more ethnic. In Paris, we always go to our favorite shrimp tempura udon place near Saint-Anne, a restaurant called Kunitoraya. Scott always shops at our favorite men’s stores in the Marais, and then we stop by the famous falafel places. New York definitely has the best bagels and Jewish delis, but the L’as de Fallafel is spectacular.
I will say in Europe, kids and even toddlers stay out LATE—or maybe parents are just more laid back. This is definitely true in the book “Bringing Up Bébé” where an American mothers discovers the wisdom of French parenting. Needless to say, I was glad to be enjoying a glass of wine a 10 PM after my spectacular duck confit dinner with my kids still playing by my side. We can always sleep in right? On the last day in Paris, we decided to go to the Musée de l’Orangerie, where my husband fell in love with with the paintings by Modigliani and Maya slumped over and fell asleep in front of the Monet water lilies (not embarrassed at all…). In the end, our two week adventure in France was perfect: a little culture, a lot of food, and incredible family memories that I’ll always remember. Stay tuned on the blog for some of the exciting interior design trends. Au revoir!