Bonjour, travel enthusiasts! Buckle up for a delicious tale of friendship, France, and feasting your way through the countryside. My bestie and I recently embarked on a culinary adventure, starting with a drive from Charles de Gaulle airport straight to the heart of French gastronomy: The Walnut Grove Cookery School in St Hilaire du Maine.
Now, when it comes to trip planning, I'm either the "control freak extraordinaire"or the "blissfully hands-off" friend. This time, with my bestie swamped between work, family, and being the superwoman she is, I donned the captain's hat and charted our course.
Our first leg? Renting a car at CDG and navigating the scenic French roads to St Hilaire. Let me tell you, fretting about getting lost was in vain. Renting a car in France turned out to be a breeze (Avis/Budget saved the day!), and with Waze as our trusty copilot, we cruised along like champs.
As we drove, anticipation crackled in the air. The Walnut Grove's website promised a hidden gem, and Google reviews gushed about its magic. But could it truly live up to the hype? Well, mes amis, let me assure you, the hype was an understatement. The Walnut Grove is indeed a hidden gem, a haven for food lovers nestled amidst the rural charm of Mayenne. It's not just about cooking; it's about experiencing the very essence of French cuisine, where the ingredients whisper their stories from farm to fork.
And then there's Eric, the mastermind behind it all. His cookery school, housed in a beautifully renovated 200-year-old farmhouse, oozes rustic elegance. The man even pampers his guests with Molton Brown amenities (a detail that didn't escape my beauty-product-loving eye!).
But Eric's true magic lies in his kitchen. He's not just a chef; he's an artist, a teacher, and a culinary guru rolled into one. He possesses the skills of Michelin-starred chefs I've encountered at luxury hotels (sorry, Four Seasons!), but with an added sprinkle of infectious enthusiasm that makes learning an absolute joy.
We immersed ourselves in a 6-night, 7-day culinary extravaganza with Eric. From mastering the melt-in-your-mouth magic of Beef Bourguignon to whipping up airy Grand Marnier soufflés (dishes I never dreamt I'd conquer!), each day was a symphony of flavors and newfound confidence. We documented our culinary triumphs on Instagram, leaving our friends drooling with envy.
The Walnut Grove wasn't just about conquering the kitchen. Eric, the ever-thoughtful host, curated excursions that painted the perfect picture of festive France. We marveled at the twinkling lights of Laval, got lost in the medieval charm of Vitré (now one of my all-time favorite French towns!), and haggled our way through bustling markets, filling our baskets with the freshest produce and seafood. It was culinary heaven on earth!
So, dear reader, if you're seeking an adventure that goes beyond the usual tourist traps, take a leap of faith and book yourself a spot at The Walnut Grove. Trust me, the five-star reviews don't even do it justice. This is where friendships deepen over shared laughter and culinary triumphs, where memories are made with every bite, and where France whispers its secrets through the aroma of freshly baked bread and perfectly caramelized onions.
And this, my friends, was just the first stop on our epic French feast! Stay tuned for tales of The Loire Valley, Cancale, Mont St Michel, and Saint Malo... the adventure continues!
P.S. Don't forget to check out the ways to save notes I have pasted below. (Eric just launched La Vie est Belle - it apples to all of the 5+ night experiences he offers. So, it applies to the type of trip I took and highly recommend! See below for the details.
P.P.S. I have pasted some tools below that should help you plan your trip to France. I have also posted some photos from this section of the trip. Scroll down to see Laval & Vitre. (Have I told you how much I love Vitre?)
WAYS TO STAY IN TOUCH & SAVE
If you want to sign up for Eric's news, you can do so here. He just launched The Copper Kitchen Collective - bringing recipes and goodies to all gourmands who visit or just dream of doing so.
He also just launched a Special Offers section on his website. Right now, if you reserve a class by March 31, 2024 and travel by December 31, 2024, you could save up to 20%. Click here for more details.
ABOUT THE COOKING SCHOOL, THE WALNUT GROVE COOKERY SCHOOL
The Walnut Grove Cookery School offers a variety of experiences ranging from day trips to week-long programs, each with varying inclusions. Here are some examples of what's included in different programs:
Market Visit and Lunch: Typically includes transportation to a local market, guided tour, cooking class based on market finds, and a delicious lunch made from scratch.
Classic French Dishes: Includes hands-on cooking instruction for dishes like boeuf bourguignon or quiche lorraine, all ingredients and equipment, and a multi-course lunch featuring your culinary creations.
3-Day Gourmet Escape: Generally includes accommodation (either at the school or partner hotels), all meals and drinks (except some alcoholic beverages), cooking classes focusing on different French culinary techniques, excursions to local producers and markets, and transfers from Laval train station.
6-Day Intensive Course: Usually includes all features of the 3-day escape, plus additional cooking classes covering more advanced techniques, deeper dives into specific regional cuisines, and potentially additional excursions.
The best way to get a definitive answer about what's included in each experience is to visit The Walnut Grove Cookery School's website: https://www.thewalnutgrove.fr/. They have detailed information on each program, including pricing, inclusions, and schedules. You can also reach out to them directly via email or phone for further clarification.
I hope this helps!
DRIVING FROM CDG IN PARIS TO ST HILAIRE DU MAINE, FRANCE
I've inserted a link on Google Maps that shows the driving route from Charles de Gaulle Airport to The Walnut Grove Cookery School. The drive should take about 3 hours and 26 minutes. The distance is 334 km. The drive was super easy and beautiful!
Remember, you can also take a train from Paris. If you decide to take the train from Paris, see below. I've attached easy instructions.
Here’s the link for those who rent a car:
HERE'S HOW TO TAKE THE TGV (HIGH SPEED) TRAIN FROM CDG AIRPORT TO LAVAL STATION
Booking your TGV train tickets from CDG Airport to Laval Station in France is easy! Here's a breakdown:
The first TGV from CDG Airport to Laval typically departs around 8:48 AM on weekdays and weekends.
The last TGV typically departs around 6:49 PM.
The journey takes approximately 2 hours and 42 minutes.
You can find a detailed schedule with specific times for your desired travel date on these websites:
SNCF Connect (official French railway operator): https://www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/
The Trainline: https://www.thetrainline.com/
Rail Europe: https://www.raileurope.com/en
All three websites mentioned above allow you to book your TGV tickets online.
Booking in advance is recommended, especially during peak season or for specific fares like discounted tickets.
You can choose from various ticket types, including:
Standard Class: Most affordable, less flexibility for changes.
Leisure Class: More flexibility for changes but slightly higher price.
TGV INOUI Premiere: Highest comfort and most flexibility for changes.
Payment options usually include credit cards and debit cards.
Once booked, you can receive your tickets electronically or as a paper ticket sent by mail.
Consider signing up for email alerts on the websites to be notified when tickets become available or prices change.
Look for promo deals or special offers, especially if you travel during off-peak hours or weekdays.
If you're traveling with a group of four, you can get a discount with the "4 for the price of 3" offer.
Children under 4 travel for free if they sit on your lap.
HERE’S HOW TO TAKE THE TGV (HIGH SPEED) TRAIN FROM MONTPARNASSE STATION IN PARIS TO LAVAL STATION
SNCF Connect: https://www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/ (This is the official website of the French national railway company SNCF. It's in English and user-friendly.)
OuiGo: https://www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/ (This is a low-cost TGV alternative, but note that it has limited destinations and travel times.)
Search for your journey: On either website, select "Montparnasse - Laval" as your origin and destination. Choose your travel date and desired time if you have preferences.
Choose your train: You'll see a list of available TGV trains with their departure and arrival times, travel duration, and ticket prices. Compare options and select the one that suits your needs.
Book your ticket: Click on the chosen train to proceed to the booking page. Follow the prompts to choose your seat (if available), select any add-ons (like luggage insurance), and complete the payment process.
Download your ticket: Once your purchase is confirmed, you'll receive an email with your e-ticket. You can download it to your smartphone or print it out.
Tickets for TGV trains are usually released about 3 months in advance. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to get the best price and seat selection.
Consider luggage restrictions when booking tickets. Standard TGV tickets include one carry-on bag and one small suitcase.
Be sure to arrive at Montparnasse Station at least 20 minutes before your train's departure time to allow for security checks and boarding.
Direct TGV trains from Montparnasse to Laval take approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Bonus Tip: You can look for special offers and promotions on the SNCF Connect website. They often have deals on TGV tickets, especially if you travel during off-peak hours or midweek.
IMAGES FROM THE MARKET IN LAVAL
IMAGES FROM VITRE - ALL DRESSED FOR THE HOLIDAYS