An amazing vacation in Southern France to start a vicious run in June
After 2.4 years of a global pandemic where I’ve been fortunate enough to travel domestically, and even a few times between the US and Canada, it was finally time to cross the Atlantic.
Back in February, after being with my family in Palm Springs, Lynn and I planned a trip to go see her family in the south of France, and aligned it with her friend’s wedding to be held in Florence, Italy - Tuscany region, to be exact – tough life, right?
With work becoming super busy leading into the summer, we were both in desperate need of a vacation. My boss even noted it during our 1x1: “when was the last time you took PTO?” I don’t think I was completely intolerable at work, but I was certainly pushing up against burnout as the long hours and the pressures of sales season were starting to mount. A relaxing European getaway was exactly what I needed.
On Wednesday, June 1st, we left the Upper West Side of Manhattan in an Uber around 5pm. 90 minutes later (yep, NYC traffic) we were going through security at John F. Kennedy International Airport. From the many miles built up over our consulting years, we gained access to the Air France lounge where we officially kicked off the vacation with champagne and pasta.
Seven hours later (including 1 glass of champagne, 1 glass of red wine and 1 Heineken for Mike; 4 hours of sleep for Lynn) we were landing in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. A quick layover and connection, and we landed uneventfully in Montpellier around 2:30pm local time. Lynn’s parents graciously made the 45 min drive from the coast to pick us up.
For those who don’t know, I met her parents once in 2019 when we were simply coworkers and friends. Me and my dad went to the US Open Tennis Championships in NYC and Lynn was there with her parents for their annual tradition. It was nice this time around to experience life on their turf.
A couple initial observations from the drive to their place: 1) Her mum does ALL the driving; 2) My Luxembourgish is rusty.
A beautiful drive through the rolling hills of Languedoc (one of the highest-value areas for wine in the world) region, and we arrived in Cap D’Agde - a quaint little beach town that’s a popular destination for French vacationers.
Their small beach house is only a 5-minute walk from the extremely blue and warm Mediterranean Sea, and they live life accordingly: everything is centered around food and wine.
There’s no over-indulgence, but everything is based on quality and spending time outdoors. Relaxation, combined with exercise, exploration, and cooking was the theme of the week. I was completely disconnected, and it was the perfect location to be shut-off from work. Here’s the daily routine they follow that I absolutely fell in love with:
Wake up around 8 or 8:30 and immediately get ready to head out
Bike (I would run alongside their bikes) the 4km to their favourite bakery
Purchase bread for the day: I ordered once to see if my grade 7 French could hold up, and very sketchily told the baker “quatre pointeaus sil vous plait” (pointeaus are a thicker, shorter version of a baguette). She laughed and provided 4 loaves which were still warm.
Bike / run the 4km back to the house and set the brunch table on the patio
Eat brunch - every day this consisted of pointeaus and spreads! Lynn’s mum kindly purchased a delicious vegan herb cream cheese ahead of my arrival, they make homemade jam (both apricot and strawberry), there was olive tempenade, and plant-based butter. Lynn’s dad also takes his coffee making very seriously and we enjoyed delicious french-pressed coffee each morning, unless you wanted an espresso which was also readily available to order :)
After smashing several slices of bread, it was unofficially “alone time”. Everyone sort of does their own thing between say 11:30 and 2. This would usually consist of reading for me and Lynn, Internet research by Lynn’s dad and brother, and 300 chores by Lynn’s mum. She rarely sat down the entire week, reminding me of my mum. Prepping vegetables, running the dishwasher, folding laundry - she refused to let me help and provided amazing service the entire time I was there.
Around 1:30 or 2, we gathered for some sort of physical activity. Throughout the week this ranged from a 3-hour family walk through the town and beaches of Cap D’Agde, to an 8-mile run/bike, to a 2-hour bike ride where I got a flat tire and had to run alongside my bike for the last kilometer. Their attitude is that they need to earn their glass of wine in the evening, which I thought was so cool - her parents are very conscious of their health and it shows in their intentional movement and food/drink portion control.
4pm back at the house - snack time. Appetizers are a big part of the meal because lunch doesn’t really exist. Olives, chips, homemade bruschetta would come flying out of the kitchen, we’d crack a cold beer, and play some cards ahead of dinner. Around this time, Lynn’s dad would slowly move the BBQ into place or pull out the electric grill based on what was on-menu for dinner. The wine of choice (if red) would also be opened around this time to start breathing
6 - 7pm: dinner time. Meals were so fun to make as a team and the menus ranged from some of their classic dishes (always based on what’s in season from the farmer’s market) to a bit of Mike Arnold influence as I introduced them to a few vegan specialties. Another beautiful characteristic of the dinners was that their garden is filled with every major herb you can imagine, so if you need some oregano or thyme or basil, Mr. Blau would just grab his scissors and carefully snip what’s needed. Because 70% of the conversations throughout the week were focused on what was for dinner each day, I will list out each meal so you can see the delicious variety (I didn’t eat the meat portions):
Night 1: Sole, baguette, fava beans in lemon and butter, peas, tomato salad
Night 2: Chicken thighs, grilled tofu, green beans, tomatoes, peas, cucumber salad, potatoes
Night 3: Eggplant parm, grilled zucchini
Night 4: Homemade pizza cooked on the pizza stone on the BBQ
Night 5: Asparagus, grilled veggies, rice, hollandaise (Mike’s vegan version vs. their restaurant-style store bought)
Day 6: Mike made his famous breakfast sandwiches for the family including tempeh bacon, eggs, garlic aioli and arugula
Night 6: Paella
Night 7: Plancha dinner with chimichurri (this is a shared grill, almost like a hibachi station where everyone cooks their own meat/tofu/veggies)
9pm: after the dinner is complete, we would finish our glasses of wine, and me and Lynn’s brother (and sometimes their mum or dad) would enjoy a night cap of whisky, alongside the odd slice of cake that would appear from the local bakery.
In addition to spending most of the time in their back garden on the patio, we explored the area a few different times. Not only on our bike rides and runs, but Lynn and I went to the beach one day and enjoyed the beautiful water. I also got to experience the “Naturiste” Village of Cap D’Aged (Google it) - a ‘free-spirited’ community featuring tons of bars and restaurants and a great area to post up, grab a beer, smoke a cigar and people watch. The whole family took the 10-min drive there to enjoy an entertaining Saturday evening, which I’ll never forget.
We also went to visit a winery in the region, about 40 minutes from their place. Local wineries in southern France are not commercialized or setup like your typical North American winery for tours, but instead, offer a rich history and local flare that are even more interesting. We drove up to the “Chateau” and the family’s house is actually right on the property. We parked near the “cave” and the owner came out of the house and down the driveway to meet us. Being in the French countryside, she and her husband didn’t speak a lick of English, so I let the Blau’s do most of the talking.
She took us into their tasting room and poured us a few samples of their white, rose and reds before allowing me to check out their production. We walked into the cool cellar with the massive tanks filled with their various vintages where the husband was checking temperatures and discussing strategies with one of his workers. It was so cool to see the building that was probably 300 years old, where they were still use some of the old concrete tanks (in addition to more modern stainless steel ones).
Lynn played translator as I had so many questions about their production, their process, and the history of the winery. She crushed it with her French considering she rarely gets to practice! Finally he showed us the barrel room, her parents bought 40+ bottles for their inventory (not exaggerating), and we were on our way home!
I really got on well with Lynn’s family and feel like I have a new friend in her brother Dany. He’s a very intelligent and curious 29-year-old who’s super interested and well-educated in finance and investing. He also understands the startup world and we follow many of the same authors, blogs and podcasts. He also enjoys football (soccer) so we, along with their dad, had some fun debates over the current transfer rumors.
Overall, the week in Southern France was nothing short of extraordinary. I felt rested, healthy, and reinvigorated as we said our goodbyes at the Montpellier airport. Lynn’s family is so much fun to hang out with. Her parents are kind, relaxed, sarcastic and funny, while simultaneously being each other’s biggest supporters. It was so nice to see their family together as it had been nearly 5 years since that occurred - I know it meant a lot to her parents. It was also awesome to know that, according to Lynn, after the first day with me there, they were as unfiltered as they would be without me there, so it was nice to know I fit right into the conversations (even if some of my comments had to be translated into Luxembourgish by Lynn). I’m very grateful for them taking me in and offering me an open invite anytime I want to come back!
I’ll save the Italian wedding for the next post because it couldn’t have been more different than the time in France, but for now, enjoy some of my favourite photos from a magical vacation on the Mediterranean. Thanks again to the Blau’s!