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Lone Traveler: The Ultimate Trip as a Solo-Female in Europe

Updated: Apr 11

The recent pandemic left me, like many others, feeling burned out and gutted. To resuscitate my zest for life, I prescribed a solo “Roman Holiday” of wandering and wondering in the charming French cities of Chantilly, Paris, Antibes, Grasse, and a last stop in London. Considering I would be alone for a week, and to avoid feeling awkward in public, I was prepared with a romantic period novel, Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas. To enhance the “Bridgerton-esque” setting in both reality and in my book, I created a playlist of elegant string quartets to listen to as an accompaniment for walking, picnicking, and castle ogling.

The experience I had was unforgettable, likely romanticized by my vivid imagination but perfect and true all the same. Here are my stories.

Horse Riding at the Chateau de Chantilly

Only a 25-minute train ride north of Paris, Chantilly is the perfect place to slow down and rest after a 12-hour overnight flight. I arrived in Chantilly on my chariot -- or taxi -- but remember I’m fantasizing the Regency Era here. The forest opened to reveal the grand entrance of the Chateau de Chantilly looming up ahead. I checked into my hotel nestled at the Auberge de Jeu de Paume and after a glorious shower to freshen up, I glided down the grand staircase to a satisfying dinner capped with their claim to fame -- Chantilly whipped cream in the winter garden Bistrot.

The next morning, I awoke to a polite knock on my door and a, “Bonjour! Petit déjeuner Madam,” was softly spoken as the door slowly opened. At that moment, I remembered the night before, I had requested breakfast in bed; as quite literally, the housekeeper gently placed a tray of pastries, jams, tea, café, and juice on my lap, without any effort for me but to lift a finger to a flaky butter croissant and frothy cappuccino. The housekeeper drew the curtains open like a magician to unveil a beautiful, sunny, May Day. The windows opened and the crisp, dewy air penetrated the room, cooling the sheets and invigorating my skin. I delighted in the sound of birds chirping with enthusiasm, just as excited as I was to start my day.

This would be my only day in Chantilly, so I gave myself an early start with a Turkish bath and Swedish massage at the Spa Valmont. After a relaxing treatment, I got dressed and headed out, next door to explore the chateau grounds, library, and horse stables until my equestrian Passion Ride booking. The hotel was very accommodating and allowed me to keep my room until my 6:00 train departure to Paris.

A highlight of the Chateau is the reading room that houses over 60,000 books and covers two floors of wall-to-wall intricate bindings and manuscripts as old as the 10th century. The most precious manuscript is The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, reputed to be the most beautiful and the best surviving example of gothic illustration.

Chantilly’s equestrian culture has existed here for hundreds of years and is evident at the opulent Great Stables, home to an Equestrian Troop that when not entertaining, are boarding 30 horses, donkeys and ponies in the pristine stable for visitors to see. To pay homage to a city passionate for horses and to stoke mine, I spent my last 3 hours in Chantilly to explore the Chateau Garden and polo fields on horseback. I met my group in a meadow, framed by canals, where the Henson Horses were grazing as they do year-round. Henson horses are the latest horse breed, a cross between light riding horse and smaller, heavier Norwegian Fjord horse, created as a docile, hardy breed of horse that is let loose in groups to graze freely in the wetlands and forests of France. I was introduced to my horse, Cheyenne, and we quickly bonded in the tranquility of the meadow as I brushed her sand-tone coat from head to hoof. I learned how to saddle and, after a quick briefing for safety, I hopped on Cheyenne, and we rode as a group of 6 riders. We walked through the cobbled town streets, through the grassy polo fields, and cantered in the Chateau Forest as the shadows and sunlight danced off the trees and sparkling springs. Back at the meadow, I treated Cheyenne to a crunchy, sweet carrot and then released her into the forest where she lives free. I will remember how her auburn mane flowed wildly, catching the wind as she disappeared with her band into the woods.

My day in Chantilly unfortunately was coming to an end and it was time for me to catch the train to Paris. I returned to my hotel to gather my things and call for a taxi. Before leaving, the hotel concierge presented me with a sprig of lilies of the valley, also known as muguet in French, in honor of May Day, also known as a workers’ holiday like Labor Day in the United States. He shared that, “In France, the muguet is symbolism of spring, a sign of good luck, and it is customary to give a sprig to loved ones.” This gifting tradition in France likely emerged as early as 1561, when King Charles IX was gifted a spray of lily of the valley on the 1st of May. In turn, he decided to gift every lady in court a stem of the sweet-scented bell-shaped flower.

As I hurried to catch my train, I couldn’t help but think that the gifted muguet would bring me luck. My taxi driver arrived, taking his time to greet his many friends in the lobby, kissing cheeks and making small talk while my time was running out. Finally, he loaded me into the car and sped through town at full speed, weaving through the lazy traffic, then finally screeched to a halt at the footsteps of the small train station. With only a minute to spare, I leapt out of the car and dashed straight into the closing doors of the train car that was waiting for me on platform one. I flopped down into a seat, my heart still racing but relieved to be on my way to Paris.

Tip: Don’t accept a ride at the exit or baggage claim area at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Follow arrows outside at the gates of the arrivals level. I made the mistake of following a driver from inside the airport and it ended up being a rip off.

Party Crasher in Paris

The May Day celebration was still in full swing when I arrived in Paris. The bustling cafes spilled out onto the sidewalks as I wheeled my suitcase towards the Odeon Hotel. I had chosen this particular hotel for its prime location which sits on a quintessential street in the 6th Arrondissement. It was here during my honeymoon I remember jumping out of a taxi and running to the first crepe stand within sight. Trying my first ooey gooey, warm chocolate crepe, Paris was love at first bite. Retracing those memorable steps, tucked away from the loud street traffic of Boulevard Saint Germain, Carrefour de L’Odeon leads to a fork of charming streets boasting glossy store fronts and iron laced flower box cafes. Inside, the lobby to my hotel was plush and modern with a welcoming array of wine, champagne, snacks, and a candy bar to my delight. I checked into the Eiffel Tower Junior Suite; located on the top floor, the room was wrapped in pink silk wallpaper, and a jungle of white wood beams supporting the ceiling -- Marie Antoinette would be pleased with the luxurious accommodations.

Just steps away from my hotel, I requested an outdoor table at Breizh Cafe to soak-in the last light and atmosphere of a wonderful day. After a satisfying meal of Briton oysters and seaweed butter crepes, I wandered down the pedestrian streets of Saint Germain des Pres, only to observe and to be invisible to the foot-travelers. I stumbled upon Fish La Boissonnerie, a popular restaurant and wine bar with a beautiful façade of small, tiled fish mosaics. I made my way inside and beelined up the stairs, weaving through the rustic wood beams to use the restroom.

On my way out, I started looking around and realized that I had walked into a private party. The tables had cleared out and people were gathered around the bar lined with a potluck of food. I noticed groups dancing and friends hanging on to each other in camaraderie. At that moment, I was no longer invisible as someone greeted me and welcomed me to the party. They insisted on pouring me my drink of choice, I opted for a negroni. As we chatted, the hostess explained the bistro was closed to celebrate the bar manager’s 21st birthday in which the hostess was determined to find her so we could be introduced. Finally, we met, and the birthday girl embraced me with a hug and “la bise,” cheek to cheek kisses. She laughed and complained about how old she was, and we both shared a smile, knowing that was the youngest she would ever be.

I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, so I finished the last sips of my drink and thanked the birthday girl for having me and I waved to the others I met. I walked home in the warm glow of the streetlamps as the last light of the day faded to night.

That evening, back at my room, I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the Parisian rooftops from my attic window. I listened to the sounds of girlfriends laughing, the staccato clacking of high heels echoing down the narrow street below. My attention moved on to the sound of an accordion bellowing romantic songs on the street corner like a perfect cliché for the city of love.

Best. Day. Ever! So perfect, I was afraid that this day would be the pinnacle and finale to my life; but, if that was the case, I would die happy. Before resting my head, I called my family, to tell them about my magical day. As I shared my stories, I realized there was something special about traveling alone; however, I also recognized that the only thing missing was sharing moments like these with the ones I love.

Tip: My favorite shopping is in the 6th Arrondissement. Check out following boutiques: Satellite Jewelry, Offiicine Universelle Buly, Le Bon Marche, and Jagh Bijoux.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Antibes

“With our being back in a nice villa on my beloved Riviera (between Cannes and Nice) I’m happier that I’ve been for year. It’s one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one’s life seems to be going well.” F. Scott Fitzgerald March 15, 1926.

The train journey from Paris to the French Riviera is long but relaxing. I watched the beautiful countryside and clusters of villages flash by my window until eventually, the Côte d’Azur dazzled into view. I arrived at the famous Hotel Belle Rives in Antibes just in time to order an Aperol spritz and caprese salad under a blue parasol at their private beach club. This hotel, formally known as the Villa Saint-Louis, is where F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda retreated to in 1925 after the First World War. It is here where he wrote his masterpiece and setting for Tender is the Night and inspired him several years later to write about the roaring wild parties in The Great Gatsby. The intimate art deco lobby was bright with pastel walls and flooded with light from the glass French doors that lead to a terrace with endless views of the riviera.

Hypnotized by the view, I drifted through the doors and onto the terrace where I enjoyed a rewarding meal of ahi tuna and fried squash blossoms. Dessert was a masterpiece, a modern take on a merveilleux extended in a sugared cage. After dinner, I strolled along the sea wall to a small dock to observe a small blinking green lighthouse. This must have been the inspiration for the green light on the dock that symbolized Jay Gatsby’s hopes and dreams. As I pondered the potential and possibilities of my life, I felt content instead of longing.

Tip: Take advantage of the water ski rentals in Antibes. It happens to be the place where the first water ski championship was held in 1949.

Perfume Workshop in Grasse

In the hills north of Cannes lies the charming town of Grasse. It’s known for the world’s perfume capital, a hub for fragrance makers, a land blanketed with prized centifolia rose, jasmine, and tuberose -- a pilgrimage for my perfume obsession. Grasse has been a hub for perfume production since the 17th century, initially developed to mask the foul animalic odor from the tanneries, and later evolved to create scented gloves for royalty.

On a day trip from Antibes, I hopped on a short train ride to Grasse for a day of learning. The train left me at the base of the small hill town, so I followed a group of students through a labyrinth of walls and alleys, gradually making my way to the top. The town center is small and proud. The streets are adorned with a canopy of pink umbrellas. Vibrant signs grab your attention and point towards the direction of the notable perfume houses such as Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard.

I explored the production process on a self-paced factory and museum tour before making my way to the Galimard lab for a Le Studio des Fragrances workshop. The in-house Perfumer, or “Nose,” sat me down in a cubical with a perfume organ, 3 levels of over 127 feminine and masculine notes. Like the keys of an instrument, I would be creating a harmony of smells for my own custom fragrance. The Nose taught me how to tune into my emotions to truly smell each essence as I layered a delicate balance of base, heart, and head notes.

My creation, Les Secrets du Printemps (formula #159945), evokes nature’s response to the onset of spring. Life whispers into the orange blossoms and rose buds ready to bloom in the warmth of the sun and are awakened by the salty wind from the Mediterranean Sea. The nose tingles as the aroma matures into a lusciously full, creamy tuberose and a deep, spicy bouquet of oriental rose. I brightened the fragrance with a fresh and clean, joyful smell of ylang-ylang, green tea, and lychee undertones grounded by cedarwood and musk. With my take-home bottle of Eau de Parfum, I can easily transport myself back to the French Riviera whenever I need to. Overall, the workshop left me with a profound appreciation for the diversity of nature’s flora and uniqueness of each fragrance.

Tip: You don’t need to travel all the way to Grasse for a perfume experience. You can create your own fragrance at the Molinard workshops in Paris or Nice.

A Flaneuse in London

The next day, I bid farewell to France and boarded the first flight to London for my last day of vacation. I dropped my bags off at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane and headed out to explore the picture perfect Mayfair neighborhood. I popped my head into the quaint little shops like at Browns boutique where I purchased a blue velvet tasseled jewelry box from Sophie Bille Brahe. I also strolled under the The Burlington Arcade and discovered a small antique hand painted Limoges porcelain pill box from Thomas Goode, a purveyor of luxury goods for the royal family. I couldn’t help but imagine running into the Modiste Madame Delacroix from Bridgerton, hoping to indulge in the latest gossip and fashion trends.

That afternoon, I treated myself to a traditional high tea at Fortnum and Mason. I took my time sipping Rose Pouchong Tea and nibbling small sandwiches, scones, and patisseries developed in honor of the late Queen’s Platinum celebration. Under the guise of my book, I people-watched and listened to light conversations while the pianist lulled me into a food comma.

Fortnum and Mason, an 18th century department store, offers 5 floors of gourmet food and gifts. I was drawn to the glass vats of pour-your-own perfume at the Caron counter on the 2nd floor. I eagerly sprayed 4 samples on my wrists and elbow creases before stepping onto Piccadilly Street to better understand the scents. Outside, I met a friendly security guard who was happy to help me choose the right perfume while he held the door open for other guests. His opinion was honest and playful. He vetoed the powdery “granny” smell and took-in a few more whiffs of the floral forward options to be sure. We eventually agreed on a fresh, “green” rose scent that I poured into the small travel spray case I purchased. The Security Guard and I bid each other farewell like forever friends, and I journeyed on to wherever the sunny spring day would take me.

My day as a flaneuse, or urban explorer, took me South to the River Thames. Just as my feet were getting tired, I stumbled into the Victoria Embankment Gardens. Without hesitation, I removed my restricting shoes and walked on the damp mossy grass, my feet grounded to the earth in delight. Finding a shady spot in a manicured garden of tulips, standing at attention in shades of red, pink, and purple, I soaked in the moment of bliss and dove back into my book, reading the climax of the story where, boy gets girl, and they live happily ever after.

My wandering concluded at Gordon’s Wine Bar, believed to be the oldest wine bar in London in a building dating back to 1237. A line of about 50 tourists had formed for a table, but the host greeted me as I walked past and led me down to the dimly lit vaulted cellars, seating me at a small table for one -- the perks of traveling alone. I enjoyed a glass of Chinon, it's violet color illuminated by the dripping wax candle on my table as the ground beneath my feet rumbled, feeling the underground train pump through the earth like the veins of the city.

Tip: The most cost-effective way to get to London from Heathrow airport is by taking the Underground, Piccadilly line, serving terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5. The journey should take no longer than 50 minutes to get to central London compared to 35 minutes by car without traffic.

The cherry on top to my solo trip was an upgrade to business class. I was pampered with ultimate relaxation as the plane took me safely home to the supportive and loving arms of my husband and daughter.

While it may seem selfish to say that I enjoyed traveling without the responsibility of anyone’s comfort but my own, it was truly a renewing and rewarding experience I’ll never forget. The solitude gave me the stillness I needed to reflect and walk with God. Not once did I feel lonely or isolated. There were many moments and interactions with kind strangers who helped me on my journey. Like the man who caught my fall on the metro, the woman who ran after a taxi for me, the waiters who invested their time to keep me company, the woman in Antibes who dialed a taxi for me when my phone wasn’t working, the woman at the airport who hugged me when I was getting emotional for forfeiting all my liquids that didn’t fit in the quart size baggy -- God delighted me in the beauty of community and human kindness. Often, I found myself talking to Him, thanking Him for his goodness, the serendipitous moments and wonders He revealed to me as I walked through my journey.

My spirit blossomed on that solo trip, much like how a tree is renewed and comes to life in the spring. If you are considering traveling alone, I encourage you to take the leap and do it! What you will experience, my dear reader, is that you won’t really be alone.

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