France Dreaming

There's an odd lull in my travel schedule. It's unusual for me to be home for so long with no other trip planned, so I am spending a lot of time daydreaming. This is the map on my office wall. I keep drawing and erasing the black circles that indicate places I would like to visit.

If I had a crappy day, a week kicking back on the shores of Malta sounds awesome. If I feel energetic, I can't wait to join a nomad tribe in Mongolia and horseback ride for a few days. Alongside these dreams there is also nostalgia and longing for places that are important to me but have been set aside for a while in favor of new destinations. France is probably on the top of that list.

Everybody loves Paris, and I am no exception. I know the city well and navigate arrondissements 1-7 without thinking, walking straight to my favorite bistros and shops without consulting a map. But it's the French countryside that calls to me. In particular, the Angers and Dordogne areas. For a few years running, I rented a 500-year-old cottage in the tiny village of Beynac-et-Cazenac, on the banks of the Dordogne River and in the shadow of Chatêau de Beynac, a fortress built in the 12th century. From there I explore the picturesque (and much better known) town of Sarlat, the pre-historic caves Les Eyzies and the vineyards near Bordeaux. That little part of France owns a big part of my heart.

And then there's Fontevraud Abbey. It probably means nothing to someone who isn't a medieval history buff. If you are like me though, Fontevraud is Mecca. In this bare, cold, 900-year-old beauty, some of the most remarkable people of the Middle Ages are buried: King Henry II of England, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty, his gorgeous wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, her favorite son Richard the Lionheart, and her daughter-in-law Isabelle d'Angoulême, wife of disastrous King John. The reason John himself isn't buried there is simple - since Eleanor and Henry married, the large portion of France that belonged to her became part of England, Fontevraud Abbey included. But John, quite possibly the most inept ruler in English history, lost it all to France before he died.

I can't wait to go back to France, pay my respects to Eleanor (my favorite historical figure) and continue on to the Dordogne. Beynac calls.