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Summer Series: Adventures on the Road

I didn’t really believe them when they said that Paris is a ghost town in August. I couldn’t imagine that a whole town would shut down. (I guess I didn’t notice last year.) Well, it’s true. These French take their August holiday seriously. Paris is officially closed. Shops are shuttered, restaurants are “fermé” and literally no one is working. It’s what my husband loves about France and it’s exactly what I hate about it. I’m not used to this. I realized that starting in the seventh grade when I moved from Missouri I have lived in “resort towns.” Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Malibu, Aspen and Santa Barbara. These towns never close and in fact they are at their peak in summertime! These towns are open and ready for business. There is a running joke in Santa Barbara that when people ask the locals where they go for vacation, the answer is usually, “Here.” I’m pretty sure this is where the word “staycation” originated. Not Paris though. During the month of August, Parisians hightail it out of town. If you want anything in Paris in August, you’re not going to get it. I went to five florist last week to get flowers and every single one of them was closed. I have just resigned to the fact that I will not have flowers in August not to mention roasted chicken, cheese or chocolates… Everything that makes Paris (and my life) great. I will take out my frustration on everyone who lives and works for me. Sorry, such is life and such is August in Paris.

My husband sensed that I needed to get out of here (before I verbally abused everyone in my wake) so he generously offered to take me and my entourage (caregivers) on a little road trip. Luckily for me, his work in Paris has come to a complete stop the first three weeks of August. This has never happened so I decided that if we had a few days free, then I was definitely going to milk it. But what to do? I decided that I would take this opportunity to do something that was nearly impossible because it usually occurs on a weekday when my husband is working. Not this week!

Through friends and a few secret sources, I discovered where all of the flea market vendors go to source their antiques. What this means is that I just learned how/where to cut out the middleman. Music to my ears and budget! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this before? I quickly learned why… It is not for the casual shopper, unprofessional or the faint of heart.

Every month around Europe, there is something called “deballage” where all of the professional antique dealers convene to shop for their stores, websites, customers, private clients, even themselves. You have to be a certified professional, have the proper paperwork, the moolah and means to transport. That’s just the beginning. You also have to know how to shop, make quick decisions, know the value of pieces, move fast and trust your instincts. So this, my friends, is how I chose to vacation in France this year.

Considering that the deballage was two hours outside of Paris and started at exactly 8 AM, we decided that we would drive a day early, check into a hotel and get to the show on time the next morning. Considering I don’t do anything normal or ugly, there was no way I was going to spend my evening in a highway roadside hotel. If you take the time, the energy and a little teeny bit more money there is always someplace charming to stay in France. I did a little research and discovered a little B&B that is an 18th-century manor house just 15 minutes from the deballage and honestly, just a smidge more expensive than a budget hotel but a crap load more charming. Domaine de Chatenay. Long tree-lined driveway, centuries-old house, peaceful pooches asleep on the porch, old terra-cotta floors, tall French windows, heirloom furniture, old-school wallpaper, fresh flowers, beautiful antiques, endearing host… As charming as charming can get. Take a look…


Hotel entry
 Antique terracotta floors
 Antique floral faience on the dining room walls
 Antique heirloom tapestry

We asked the proprietor of the hotel if there was anywhere semi-nearby that would be fun to visit. He gave us a list and boy was he right. We drove through a few villages and our entire car was silent in awe of the scenery except for the loudmouth American (me) in the backseat looking out the window and yelling, “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful” at every turn. You wouldn’t blame me, take a look…

 Cathedral detail
 Town vegetable market
 Village maison
 This little cutie is what holds back exterior shutters!
 Village chapel
 Mayor's house

Coming back to the hotel at about 10 PM, we had a lovely chat and a refreshing summertime gin and tonic with the owner of the hotel in the salon. He told us all about the history of the house that had been in his family for over 100 years and previous to that he explained that there had been two other houses on the same property in the 16th and 17th century. I could have talked to him all night but I knew that I needed to get some rest to prepare for the next morning’s adventures.

Waking at 6 AM, getting dressed and having a typical French breakfast of café au lait, buttery croissants, country ham and local cheese in the beautiful breakfast room of the hotel, we were ready to attack the day. I asked my husband if he would just pop into the kitchen to check it out because I was sure it was that perfect country French kitchen. He refused and said that would be rude. Don’t you hate when your husband doesn’t do as you say/command?

Getting to the event, I looked around the parking lot at the antique dealers ready to ascend on the show and I smiled and thought, “These are my people.” These are the people who rise at the crack of dawn, cash in hand waiting to be spent, ready to buy furniture. It’s a particular group to be sure. Not a moment sooner, the doors open at 8 AM and it’s party time. Move, move, move, fast fast fast, make a decision, pay, move on. You have to know your shit at these places. It’s no time to ponder, overthink or wonder if a piece will work or not. You need to already know and that requires years of experience. I didn’t realize it until this day that everything that I’ve ever studied, researched, thought about, and appreciated led up to this point. There is a certain type of gilt that I’m looking for that reflects the era that I like… Mostly 18th and 17th century. I am borderline on 19th century gilt. There is a difference of woods… I like French oak but only if it has a certain look. Wormholes are your friends but not too much. There’s a difference between good bronze and cheesy bronze. There is a difference between Japanese and Chinese lacquer. I don’t do cherubs. I am very specific about paintings. I like a piece to have a purpose in a home even if that purpose is to be purely decorative. And it’s got to be the right price, easy to ship, and have a certain “wow factor.” All of this goes through my mind within seconds at every booth. 90%, I don’t like. That 10%? Golden. I purchased 12 items for the shop for September’s sale and I could not have been more excited.

The whole experience was a rush and a thrill and I needed a three hour nap and a hot tea (I lost my voice for about an hour) to recuperate. No such luck. On our way home back to Paris after the deballage, my husband suggested we take a slight detour through the Loire Valley. As tired as I was, when someone offers to drive you through the Loire Valley of France to go to a castle that was built for a king, you don’t say no, even if you have ALS. So off we went to Château d'Amboise. I will be forever grateful that I was lucky enough and had enough strength to see Henry II’s bedroom chamber and be inches away from Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place in the chapel of the Château because this wasn’t your ordinary detour off the freeway, right?


Henry II bedroom window detail. Money bags!
So that was our two day summer adventure. Driving through the French countryside is an absolute treat… Golden wheat fields, pastoral scene of cows napping near still ponds under the shade of a tree, sunflowers as far your eye can see, quaint restaurants serving country fare, van Gogh blue skies, medieval castles perched on hills, stone cottages quietly resting near babbling brooks, historical churches in every village and not a Taco Bell in sight (unfortunately)… A wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Now I see why the French take their holidays so seriously. A much-needed break to unwind and respect the “downtime” is a good idea… Even if I can’t get flowers in Paris in August.

Stay tuned for my next Summer Series. Hint: “You say tomato, I say toe-mah-toe..."


  1. This makes me happy :)


  2. When I saw the Mayors house I said to myself "The Snowhite and the seven dwarfs". And then I saw the little statues near the wall! I enjoyed your trip very much. Leonardo da Vinci tomb OMG! The only city outside Paris that I visited (23 years ago!) is Reims.
    Dear Ellie, yesterday I went for a swim near Athens, I laid on the blue calm water, the sun penetrated my eyes and I thought of you. So yesterday we swam together. Maria from Athens-Greece

    1. Thank you for taking me along for your swim. I hope I was wearing a cute bathing suit… Hope you are well. XOXO

  3. I was at Chateau Amboise, just a few days after 9/11. I remember standing next to the chapel looking out over the rooftops and seeing an American flag flying......

  4. This is why I love your blog, take me along on your adventures! This one was wonderful! I mean, Leonardo's resting place?!!! I'll never forget this summer tour!
    XOXO / Nancy

  5. Bless you, Ellie dear, for this sojourn and your comment sharing.... I was carried away and
    what better guide than one with a soul destined to see, really see, the treasures and tableaux
    that reside in that blessed corner of France who opens our eyes as you do.... you pleasured
    our hearts....

  6. Loved the story, thanks for sharing it. Have you been to the flea market in the town of Lillie? I hear it is huge.

  7. Thank you for taking me along on your fabulous adventure! Leonardo's tomb- what a fabulous experience! I'm so envious.
    I am overdue for an August getaway, so my next Goggle search will be for a beach retreat. I'm grateful to you, always, for your inspiring posts.

  8. YOU sound like ME and I sound like YOU!LOVE the B&B you found.............and yes I have seen the LOIRE VALLEY with my BOYFRIEND in 1978.....................we even found an empty house with books on the floor.......believe me it was empty. I took ONE!A cookbook........can't read it but love having it.Not that old from the 1950's me recalls.SOON the crowds will be back.....and you will have your flowers.XOXO

  9. I am so glad you had a wonderful time. It has always been a dream to visit France, among other places. I realized this year it won't happen, so thank you for the photos and descriptions. I love seeing things through your eyes, your enthusiasm is contagious. And, yes, isn't it annoying when people do not do as we say? :-)) It must be so satisying to use your experience and knowledge to find the treasures. I have to confess, I like SOME cherubs. Pease forgive me :-)) Big ole hug to you!

  10. I love that you take us all along! Looking forward to my towels from last sale...looking forward to

  11. Oh so that is where you have been! Sneaking off to a monster deballage in the midst of just complete, utter beauty with a stop in the Loire on the way home. Yes, just your run-of-the-mill August break. ;) This was an amazing spoil us with your fabulousness. And oh me oh myo, I can't WAIT to see what you bought. The deballages are for the Big Kids as you say and crap is not on offer...

    18th century gilt all the way! And I never knew why but now I do thanks to is the wood. 19th is too matte and 17th? Well, we both know that I can't afford 17th. heehee

    Did you take any photos of some of the buyers at the deballage? They are the most amazing characters ever...

    Sending you Love like the virtual bouquet that you so deserve and Strength like a lion,

    PS. And thank you for thinking of me to send me a birthday card while you were in the midst of your vacation!

  12. all this time I thought "deballage" translated to "married". This sale sounds glorious! And your lodging is spectacular! I want to come to be next one.
    Happy belated birthday to Gracie (and to you)!

  13. What a lovely tour; as close as I will ever get to being in France once more. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and am excited to see what you found when you hold your September sale. XO, Victoria

  14. Ellie, so happy to go along on your journey ! Reading your blog this morning I was transported to all those beautiful places, thank you

  15. Hi Ellie, You just described my buying rules. It's that 10% that I've got my eye on. Your mini-vacay sounds divine, Can't wait to see what you scored. xoxo Mary

  16. Ellie I felt as if I was right along with you on this adventuresome getaway! The perfect place to stay (going a day ahead of market was so smart) Then on the way home, the Loire Valley, da Vinci's resting place! Very excited to see your purchases for the next sale!

    The Arts by Karena
    Artist Nicoletta Belletti

  17. Thank you for taking us along on your adventure outside of Paris. I haven't been inside a chateau in quite a few years - always enjoyable. I look forward to seeing your deballage finds. Take good care.

  18. Ellie, this was amazing! Actually, as I was reading and slowing looking through the pictures, I thought to myself "What a wonderful life Ellie has AND has made for herself!". I hope you don't mind! You haven't let anything hold you back! Thanks for sharing and taking us along with you on your beautiful trip and your wonderful life. And again, your writing is fantastic! And so so funny! I know I don't "know" you, but am so glad I found your blog so many months ago! I still keep you and your health in my prayers.

  19. OMG you are so much fun! What a treat for us who will probably never experience being inches away from DA VINCI'S burial site or HENRY II's bedroom chamber in person to be escorted around France by someone who has you going "ooh and ahh" at the pictures and my mouth watering for French pastry and a latte. Can't wait to see your finds from you little shopping trip. I think I will spend my afternoon on the internet researching the French Countryside, Da Vinci, and Henry II. Can't wait for you next adventure.

  20. Ellie, you may be battling a debilitating disease, but you certainly don't let it hold you back! You have more get up and go and courage, than a score of other people put together! I love your sense of adventure and spirit that drives you! At the markets, I gather that your competitors would not want to get in the way of you and a targeted prize, unless that potential rival might be Catherine Deneuve!
    We're the lucky flys on the wall, who get to share a little of your life!
    A fabulous post! Thanks.
    Deborah - Melbourne, Australia

  21. We were blessed to visit Château d'Amboise during Halloween. Three memories I won't forget from that trip were the views from the top of the castle, the huge winding carriage towers that go up to parking ( I guess?), and the little, precious French goblins running all through the little village! I was told they trick or treat from store to store instead of at homes like in the US. It was all too beautiful....almost surreal. Thank you for that trip down memory lane, Ellie!!!

  22. Dear Ellie, You don't even have to publish this comment but I was wondering if you'd be able to put together a post on visiting Paris on a budget. You seem to know all the chicest places to visit, I wonder if you know secret little bargain hotels and restaurants. I would love to surprise my husband with a small Paris vacation. Thank you so much. x

    1. Hi there! Great idea, I will put together a posting in September about Paris on a budget. It's totally possible. XOXO

  23. Ellie--What a great road trip--especially with an "unplanned" stop in Amboise! My husband are visiting France next month(for the first time) and will spend a part of our time there, as well as in Rouen, and in Paris near Luxembourg Garden. Joy, strength, and courage to you, your family, and caregivers!

  24. Lovely, stunning, beautiful. ..I have been to France a few times but I think this 'visit' ranks right up there..thank you for taking us summer I'll be in Santorini and I'll take you along..♡♡