Before traveling to Paris last March, I spent a quick weekend in Chamonix. Although I am not a skier, there was lots to do and see in this charming town. There are beautiful views of the Alps and Mont Blanc from throughout the town.
My friends and I rented an apartment from Snostation, a rental company located in Chamonix. We were a quick walk from the center of town and Chamonix Sud, another area with restaurants and shops. There was also a grocery store within a 5-10 minute walk to pick up some essentials on arrival. The ladies at Snostation were extremely helpful when letting me into the apartment and helping us out when the building's front door lock was broken (by someone else in the building!) It was great to have someone who spoke English a phone call away for questions. The apartment was well kept, and it even had a pretty view from the balcony.
One fun thing to do on Saturdays is visit the farmers' market in the center of town. If you are staying in an apartment, you will find everything needed for a fabulous après ski dinner. The rotisserie chickens you often find in French markets were available, as well as cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, and baked goods. Many vendors offered specialities from the surrounding Haute-Savoie region, as well as items that seemed a bit more Italian than French. It is easy to forget how close Chamonix is to Italy! (You can in fact ski there for a day while based in Chamonix.) A highlight of the market was definitely the buckwheat crepes we ate for lunch. Mine was filled with local goat cheese and honey and was completely delicious.
Even if you do not ski, you can still get up into the Alps via the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Yes, you will be traveling up the mountain with people with skis, snowboards, parasailing packs, and huge arrays of mountaineering gear (think icepicks), but all you need is warm layers and water. The altitude is quite high and you ascend rapidly, so keep drinking that water! There are viewing platforms on several levels, looking several directions-with large signs to show you what you are looking at (Italy, Mont Blanc, etc.) There are some places to sit and have a snack, but the altitude got to my group pretty quickly and we had no interest in staying up there for any extra time. Despite the sort of terrifying ride, I highly recommend trying the cable car. The views were just too amazing to miss. (Note that this is a different cable car than the one recently featured in the news for stranding riders overnight.)
While in Paris, we were interested in trying a cooking class, but were looking for one taught in English. The cooking would be challenge enough-we didn't need to add French translation issues to it! After a bit of searching, I found La Cuisine cooking school on the Quai l'Hôtel de Ville. The location was perfect for us and they had several glowing Trip Advisor reviews. They offered a wide variety of classes, but unfortunately, many were booked for our week. Next time, I will book much earlier! Luckily, there was a class with four spaces available on a day we could go that focused on making the classic French cookie-the macaron. Having sampled many, many macarons from Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, and the Bon Marché food hall, I was eager to try baking some myself.
The teaching kitchen was an incredibly well organized space. Our class had eight participants, working in four teams of two. I think the classes often have a few more students, but there was plenty of room for a larger group. Our class consisted of the four of us (Americans), a Canadian mother and daughter pair, and a young couple from Mexico. We all enjoyed laughing about our own ineptitudes and taking each others' pictures as we attempted the many steps involved in making macarons. Chef Guillaume was a great teacher. As a teacher myself, I appreciated how well he taught the technical aspects of baking and cooking, but his sense of humor and funny comments really won us over. He was absolutely hilarious!
We learned to make two types of meringue for the cookie base-Swiss and Italian, then each team made a different filling. The fillings were fruit jam, chocolate, pistachio, and a vanilla cream. Assembling the cookies took some time, but at the end we got to sample four different macarons-all delicious! Everyone left the class with a box of cookies to enjoy over the next few days. The lady at the front desk of our hotel graciously stored ours in the fridge of the lobby bar-and was happy to taste some as a thank you!
I would definitely recommend trying a class at La Cuisine. It was fun for first time visitors to Paris, as well as a fresh experience for return visitors. They offer a bread making class that I would love to try!
Seine river cruise at night
The Vedettes du Pont Neuf leave from under the Pont Neuf on the Île de la Cité. There are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction as you cross the bridge. You head down some stairs towards the water, then join a line to buy tickets. You can also buy them ahead, but we wanted to buy them the day of so we could be certain of clear weather. It was chilly in March, but with proper clothing, it was not at all unpleasant. We passed all the sights along the Seine, including Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Conciergerie, and several beautifully lit bridges. We also got an interesting view of some of the gorgeous apartments along the river.
The boats had an inside seating area, and upstairs, an open air seating area. The view is much better from the outdoor deck, so we opted for that. You do want to be near the front of the line to board in order to have a good choice of seats. Drinks were available from a little bar downstairs. On a warmer night, a nice glass of wine would have been lovely, but it was too chilly!
The attacks on the Brussels airport and metro stations had just occurred, so the Eiffel Tower was lit in the colors of the Belgian flag. Having endured their own terrorist attacks in November, Parisians felt a sense of solidarity with the Belgian people, and lit the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of their support.