Our first road trip!

“You should meet us there!” Dorothy said last December. Dear friends Dorothy and Amy, along with seven of their closest friends and family, had rented a villa near San Gimignano, Italy, a village in Tuscany. Knowing we were moving to France the next month, and anticipating we’d be settled and ready to travel by then, we immediately agreed. We looked into flights and trains, but in the end we decided this would make a great road trip. On April 14, rental car loaded, we set out. 

Amy, Sandy, and Dorothy in Italy

We stopped overnight near Antibes, staying at a Marriott property. We walked to dinner and had a good night’s sleep, and the next morning we headed out for what should have been a six-hour drive. We stopped in Arenzano, a village by the Ligurian Sea, for lunch.

Beach at Arenzano

Pesto was invented in this area in the 16th century, so I had to try it. It was delicious, but honestly not any better than what I make at home.

Authentic pesto in Liguria

Back on the road, we began to encounter Easter weekend traffic. Italians are the world masters of tailgating, and as the driver I was a bit white-knuckled the entire trip. We drove through the mountains–and when I say “through the mountains” I mean exactly that; there are 191 tunnels between our home and our Tuscan Airbnb (yep, I count things). We were delayed by a six-car fender-bender (remember what I said about tailgating?), but after nine hours on the road we finally found our home for the next few days.

View from our Airbnb

High in the hills south of Florence, our apartment was on the second floor of an ancient building, part of an old olive oil estate. It wasn’t easy to get to, especially since many of the winding roads were only wide enough for one car, but the views were spectacular. We checked in, unpacked, and headed out on those winding roads to a nearby village for dinner. Arriving a little after 7pm, we were the first customers!

Walking back to the car after dinner

The next morning we drove in to Florence. I think everyone in Italy had the same idea! It was the day before Easter, and the city was so crowded we couldn’t get into any of the churches or museums! Undaunted, we walked our legs off, ate well, and headed back home before dark.


We were excited for the next day’s experience: a Tuscan wine adventure I’d booked on Airbnb. We were taken to a 500-year-old cellar, now a co-op production facility (owned by ten small producers), where we learned a lot and tasted a couple of wines, along with local focaccia and olive oil. Then we traveled on to the farm, where we sat in the sunshine and tasted more wines, along with bruschetta and cheeses. Lunch was announced, and our group, along with two others, descended to the cellar, where we enjoyed the most sumptious lunch ever (along with more wine, of course!). 

Amazing lunch!

The next day we drove to visit Dorothy, Amy, and the rest of the gang. We explored a lovely nearby village before deciding we were hungry.

Art in the village

Village cat

We split into a couple of different groups for the afternoon, and our group ended up having lunch at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, a gorgeous resort near the villa.

Resort lobby flowers

The resort is part of an entire village project that includes a golf course, spa, apartments, event venues, and restaurants. The views are magnificent!

Castelfalfi views

After exploring the village, where I met a charming potter and bought one of his plates (you’ll see it in the last picture), we headed back to the villa, where a chef would be making dinner for all of us. I grabbed a seat at the kitchen island and proceeded to watch the cooking show. I may or may not have sampled a few things along the way. . .

Lovely table for our chef-prepared dinner (ignore the unflattering picture of me!)

Phil especially enjoyed meeting Margaret, a very talented artist. They’re going to paint the same view and compare notes! Full, tired, and happy, we bade farewell to our friends and made the harrowing trip home. Did I mention the winding, narrow roads, full of blind spots? With Phil driving and me navigating, we made it back safely. The next day, our last in Italy, we had scheduled a walking food tour. You may have noticed we love food tours! A lovely group of Americans (two women and their adult daughters) joined us for a tasty tour, where we were seated in several restaurants and shops.

First stop on the food tour

Our guide, a native Florentine, was knowledgeable and shared lots of information about non-touristy things to do. One of the historically significant restaurants we visited was frequented by Anthony Hopkins when he was in Florence filming.  


This designation indicates historical sigificance

We loved learning about the “wine holes” in Florence Our guide explained that in the 17th century, impoverished people were entitled to one free glass of wine per day, served through these little windows. Later they were used to sell wine, and apparently they’re re-emerging.

Wine hole

After the tour, we walked around the city, did some shopping, and trudged back to the car. The beauty of Florence is everywhere, and even though we didn’t visit museums or churches on this trip, we loved the random sights encountered at every step.

Peeking into a building: is it a hotel? Offices?

The market was a special treat, and we loaded up on polenta, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegars, and more. Exhausted after all that walking, we headed home for a good night’s sleep and left early the next morning, avoiding traffic on the tiny roads. It was lovely to arrive home safe, sound, and with lots of new memories to savor. 

Florence market bounty



How we developed friendships in our first weeks

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Phil and I arrived in Montpellier on January 23. Less than three months in, we already have a lovely circle of friends. We expected to be a bit lonely the first year here, but that hasn’t been the case at all.

We credit Renestance for much of this good fortune. During our July 2021 reconnaissance visit we met with several of their team members for an apero (the French custom of cocktails and nibbles in late afternoon), and they could not have made us feel more welcome and secure.

We arrived in Montpellier excited to see our apartment and settle in. What we didn’t expect was the warm welcome from Lizzie, our Renestance consultant, and our landlords (propriétaires).

A lovely welcome from Renestance!

Our furnished apartment did not include bed linens, and we arrived on a Sunday when the stores were closed (!), but our wonderful propriétaire, Jacqueline, loaned us freshly ironed sheets to get us through until we could shop. Soon afterward, she stopped by with a delicious cake, which has been followed by another cake and most recently a batch of date-walnut balls. Jacqi is originally from Lebanon, and she has promised to treat us to a traditional Lebanese dinner soon. She also had me over for coffee one morning, and we had so much fun chatting in “Franglaise” that I stayed almost three hours!

Jacqueline’s delicious date and walnut balls rolled in coconut

 I had connected with Gwen, who with husband Tom moved from Arkansas in November 2019 (yep, right before everything shut down!) through the “Americans in Montpellier” Facebook group. During our July trip we met up with them for coffee and hit it off. The week we arrived they invited us over for coffee, and we were delighted to find out that our homes are only a half mile apart! Their wonderful dog Bella welcomed us with open arms (paws?), and a great friendship, which may or may not have anything to do with Gwen’s fabulous chili,  immediately ensued. One of Gwen’s many talents is making greeting cards, and when we returned from my birthday trip to Nice a custom-made card was waiting.

My custom-made 70th birthday card from Gwen, Tom, and Bella

The high point of my week is Thursday morning coffee with the “Long Duck Ladies” (a play on the word Languedoc, the region where we live), a Facebook group started by Renestance founder Dennelle Taylor Nizoux. We’ve added a few husbands to our group, which this week numbered 11 for coffee! We meet outside (in all weather) at the Café de la Mer, and occasionally some of us continue on to lunch. Anne, who with husband John arrived from Seattle two weeks after we did, is a regular, as is Margi, who with husband Michael moved last October from New York. Tracey and husband Bobby, early retirees from Virginia, have lived here several years and know all the best restaurants. Sandi is from South Africa and speaks French beautifully, and there are others from the UK, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries.

This week’s male contingent of the Long Duck Ladies (thanks to Gwen for the photo!)

There have been other fun times with some of the LDLs—recently we attended practice sessions for the World Figure Skating Championships (more fun than the actual competition and MUCH cheaper!). Margi mentioned she was attending, and soon three of us had decided to join her!

Men’s practice session. It was exciting to be so close to the skaters!

I’m not saying we’re friends exactly, but we have a pair of beautiful black and white birds that frequent our garden. I think they’re magpies. We also have two cats that sneak through the garden, thinking they’re invisible, but they are very camera shy!

Feathered friend

We’ve also had friends over for dinner a few times. It was pretty basic at first, but after our shipment arrived I could set the table with my own things.

Our table set for a recent dinner with Margi and Michael

And for my first birthday in France, my lovely Renestance friends treated me to lunch at a sunshiny cafe (complete with wine, bien sur). Who would have thought we’d have great friends in just over two months?! Now we must work hard on our language skills so we can make more French friends!

Beautiful birthday flowers from Renestance