La Chandeleur Celebration

January 25, 2015 @ 9:18 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Paris Louvre France

Elegant Paris sculpture even in the snow!

The gaiety of the holiday season has passed, and winter has settled in along the quais and jardins of Paris.  Folks began their day in Paris with 30-degree temperatures that will move just a little to less than 45-degrees.  Often, the sun hides behind thick blankets of clouds, and the spirit perhaps needs a little boost.

Voila!  We are France!  We have just the solution to carry us through wintry days, until the tulips begin to spring forth along the garden walkways.

In just a couple of weeks, the French will celebrate the religious holiday of Candlemas or “Fête de la Lumière”.  The February 2 celebration – 40 days after Christmas – is also known as “jour des crêpes”, when families enjoy a bit of “fortune telling”.  They foresee the future with a game – flip the crêpe successfully, and you’ll enjoy good luck through the year.  Probably works as well as a Groundhog!


Have a wonderful Sunday!

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The Mystery of the Camargue

January 20, 2015 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Flaming sunset over the Camargue – © ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau

Mystifying.  Fascinating.  Camargue stretches like a triangle from its apex at Arles to Aigues-Mortes and Fos-sur-mer on the Mediterranean and traced along those borders by the Grand and Petit Rhône Rivers.  The land is buffeted by the fierce Mistral winds, that even defined the cabanes or huts that were built to protect against the harsh environment.

The natural treasures are many, a cauldron of natural lagoons and manmade canals, a sweep of grassy plains dotted with black bulls and small white horses, a mix of farmhouse mas, sheep houses and pump stations, all working together – or at odds – through the years to keep the land and the people going.

Nature tries to stand her ground against tourists, and the Grand Parc enfolds the flamingos and animals and the  flora and fauna of the land.  The saltiers tend to salt flats, harvesting the fleur de sel; and the rice farmers protect their increasingly smaller fields.  Along the Petite Camargue, the unique mix of alluvial mud and sand nurtures the flavorful rose wine of the region.

Wild white Camarguais horses – © ATOUT FRANCE/Pascal Gréboval

The Camargue becomes a blur of tourists in the summer, campers parked in the countryside and along the Mediterranean.  Bed and Breakfasts offer cowboy-like experiences complete with guardien-guided horseback tours past garrigue shrubs and along reed-lined canals.  They return to the farmhouse in the evening for hearty Provençal meals of grilled beef, Coquilles Saint Jacques, rotisserie duck and earthy cheeses.

Open air markets, bull fights, quaint chapel towers, fortified towns and lovely seaside harbors deliver every conceivable holiday experience.  Perhaps, the crowning event is the pilgrimage and celebration of the saint’s day for Mary Jacobe in May, when the gypsies gather in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their patron saint.

The Camargue weaves quite a tapestry of scent and taste, sight and sound, custom and color.  One of our lasting memories was the sight of a gendarme on horseback out in the middle of a flat, golden field.  He seemed at once alone and a part of the land through which he rode.

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Friendly, Fascinating Antibes

January 19, 2015 @ 8:28 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Old Antibes, and the Mercantour peaks in the distance – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

“I have never seen such a surprising thing as Antibes in front of the French Alps when the sun is falling.” – Guy de Maupassant, French Poet

My Parisian friend and I indulged in a whimsical  day of wandering around the country lanes of Provence on a chilly March day.  At one point during the journey, our paved road turned into a dirt track in the middle of a vineyard.  Yes, we looked at our map, though that was useless, and I said, “We’ll know where we’ve been, when we get where we’re going.”  C’est la vie, it’s a bit of fun to be lost anywhere in France.

At the end of the day, we checked into a quaint little hotel in Antibes and took to the streets of old town in search of a restaurant.  The same devil-may-care approach guided our evening.  Though it was off season in early March, several petite café’s were warmly lit and inviting.  How shall we choose?  We turned to see a couple walking behind us and decided that if they chose the café we just passed, we would do the same.

And oh sweet fate – it was the perfect choice for an entertaining evening.  We sat at a cozy little table next to a beautiful stone wall.  The other couple was just ahead of us, and to our right was a group of 6 or 7, engaged in lively conversation over dinner.  We learned they all were members of the family that owned the café and were very interested to discover an American in their midst.  It is as if we instantly were part of their family.  When their karaoke entertainment began, they called for the American to sing – Allez, allez Sahn-di!!  And so we sang and danced through the night with our new friends.

Cap d’Antibes and Old Antibes radiate charm among the many jewels along the Mediterranean; where maritime pines line streets that descend to the sea, and a charming lighthouse and 5th-century chapel –  Nôtre Dame des Amoureux – overlook the cape and the Baie de la Garoupe.

Several beaches serve sun worshippers and visitors who enjoy the scenic bayside along Le Chemin de Tirepoil.  That particular trail passes below the Villa Eilenroc at the tip of the peninsula.  Designed by the man who created the Opera Garnier in Paris, the grand villa and gardens are now owned by the city and open to the public to offer a captivating visit with beautiful murals, historic displays and sumptuous furnishings.

Eilen Roc Villa & Gardens

End your visit with a quiet moment in the rose garden and, perhaps, imagine the view through Greta Garbo’s eyes (she was one of many famous people to rent the villa).

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Thomas Jefferson’s Love of France

January 18, 2015 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

The lively market in Aix-en-Provence


Though I will never reside in the White House, I do have something in common with the historic American President Thomas Jefferson – a deep appreciation for France.  When Jefferson was Minister to France, he left Paris for an extensive trip to the South.

Over three months in 1787, he travelled in his own horse-drawn carriage and carefully examined the Canal of Languedoc that stretches from Toulouse to Agde on the Mediterranean Sea.  He travelled 25 to 30 miles per day, either walking along the shaded banks or sitting in his carriage aboard the boat that was towed along the canal.

Canal du Languedoc

In Bordeaux, he compared wines and noted the planting and pruning of the vines.  Later, he commented on his own contributions to America,  mentioning the olive plants he had sent from Marseilles to South Carolina and Georgia.   An accomplished farmer, Jefferson felt “…the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

He chose to model the Virginia state capitol after the Roman temple, Maison Carrée in Nîmes and visited the ancient Pont du Gard aqueduct that dates to 19 B.C.  For the whole Jefferson story, with pleasure we recommend Thomas Jefferson’s Journey to the South of France by Roy & Alma Moore.  An excellent profile of another dominant American with strong ties to France.


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