Archive for March, 2012

Returning to Roussillon

March 31, 2012 @ 11:07 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Roussillon's dramatic ochre quarry

One of the great appeals of Roussillon are the ochre mines below the village, with curious rock formations and splashes of white, orange and red soil and rock mixtures.  But it seems less ochre and more “magnet” that lures us, as we don’t seem to be able to visit the Luberon without stopping in Roussillon.

At most, though, we spend a couple of hours browsing through shops, sightseeing and picking a scenic outdoor café for lunch.  The entire village seems ablaze with the ochre and rust colors and colorful accents, beautiful flowers and shaded cafes.

On our next visit, we’ll change our travel strategy to stay in the small village rather than in a larger city like Avignon.  We want to feel the quiet descend over the village, as nightfall nears.  We’ve found the perfect place – Le Clos de la Glycine in the heart of the village, with lovely rooms overlooking the valley.  We’ll choose one with our own private terrace and panoramic view, the perfect spot to begin our day with breakfast.

The shops and galleries and winding village lanes are wonderful to explore, filled with bright baskets and pottery and lazy cats curled in the shade of a windowsill. We’ll stop on the square at the top by the Church of Saint-Michel, where we once spread our picnic to watch over the lively Hotel de Ville square.

Quaint and colorful village in the Luberon

On a Saturday, when household chores beckon and projects loom in the week ahead, I can’t think of a better trip to imagine and plan.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

Whimsical Memories of Chartres

March 29, 2012 @ 1:01 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

 

Flower bedecked banks of the Eure River

Travel memories.  They are those wonderful soft blankets that wrap your mind in warmth.  And they are whimsical, often selecting little moments that have nothing to do with the spectacular sights for which a place is known.

My memories of Chartres are like that, focused far less on the renowned Cathedral of Chartres than on petite sights.  Yes, the cathedral, the spires and gardens are extravagantly beautiful.  My friend and I chose a little spot right across from the side of the church to have our lunch in the shadow of its grand façade.

Stronger memories, though, include wandering along streets with half-timbered houses and brightly painted homes.  We stepped down the charming stairways of Tertre Saint-Nicolas and rue Chantault to arrive at the 12th-century Collégiale Saint-André.  We were surprised to find a delightful exhibit of large, colorful metal figures suspended from the ceiling – pure serendipity and not at all what we expected in the Romanesque church.

A little history lesson filled us in.  The church closed in 1791 and suffered severe damage in the early 1800’s and again in 1944.  Today, it is far smaller than its original size and serves as an exhibition centre.

12th-century Collégiale Saint-André

Down by the quiet flow of the Eure River, we crossed little bridges and wandered along riverside pathways lined with flower gardens.  Our grand finale experience before catching the last train back to Paris was dining at a quaint restaurant on the water.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and experienced the amazing hospitality of Chartres’ residents.  Two gentlemen at an adjacent table knew an event had filled the city’s hotels and offered us a room, should we miss the last train.

With all deference to the unrivalled beauty and depth of history of the Cathedral, I felt privileged to have absorbed the many faces of Chartres’ penetrating charm.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

La Tour Bois-le-Prêtre Transformed

March 28, 2012 @ 11:31 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Light-filled living areas and "winter gardens" - ©Druot, Lacaton & Vassal

Beginning October 28, 2005, headlines streamed around the world.  The riots began in Clichy-sous-Bois, a banlieue (suburb) on the outskirts of Paris, ignited by the accidental deaths of two boys fleeing the police.  The unrest spread like fire across France, when nearly 10,000 cars were destroyed and property was damaged to the tune of millions of dollars.

That is the dark background of a light-filled transformation.  A different buzz circles the world today, piling accolades and awards on a team of architects of social change … and of the newly-rejuvenated on the boulevard Périphérique, the highway that circles the city of Paris.

A little extra background helps in understanding this accomplishment.  When housing shortages occurred in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, rapidly built high-rises became the easy answer.  Unfortunately, they became synonymous with the considerable social divide between prosperous Paris and the suburban high-rise properties.  Rightly or wrongly, many saw the architecture as a large part of the problem.

Following the 2005 riots, pressure on the government to improve the banlieues mounted.  The unprecedented surge of anger in the youth revolt demanded change of a political system that failed them.  The “easy answer” called for demolishing the high-rises, seen to be anonymous and isolating, with the target of eliminating 40,000 apartments per year.  Yet, that plan disregarded the unique identities of those 40,000 households.

“Détruire, c’est gaspiller” – Destruction is waste

In 2005 three architects won a government competition to remodel the 50-year-old public-housing high-rise, La Tour Bois-le-Prêtre.  The creative architectural team included Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, who operated from the premise that “destruction is waste”.  Rather than demolishing and rebuilding from scratch, the challenge was to recognize existing strengths, minimize resident displacement, increase living areas and complete the project at a lower cost than that of demolition.

Their plan focused on re-inventing the experience of high-rise living, allowing for an additional 20 to 60 meters of space for each of the 100 apartments, mostly by creating scaffolding types of “winter gardens” and balconies.  The design advantages also considerably reduced noise from the neighboring motorway.

The results are no less than astounding, and the architectural team already has been honored with the Equerre d’argent 2011, an annual architecture prize awarded by the Moniteur press group.  Judges praised the creativity of transforming the ‘60’s building from a dull concrete tower into a sustainable, open and airy building filled with natural light.  The layered balconies and gardens act as a thermal buffer that filters sunlight and provides insulation, reducing cooling and heating costs.

While the architects no doubt appreciate the praise of worldwide press and design circles, more so they relish the positive impact they have brought to 100 households.  The implications of their work will ripple far beyond Parisian suburbs.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Paris Image copyright ©Druot, Lacaton & Vassal

Retreat to Perfection in Gordes

March 27, 2012 @ 1:02 pm
posted by Sandra Sheridan

The breathtaking approach to Gordes

Gordes.  It’s one of those places you visit in your mind, when you can’t sleep and want to fill your spirit with peace and calm and unspoiled beauty.  I push away my covetous feelings about those who enjoy life there on a daily basis, telling myself that such an experience might spoil the charm, might make me numb to the everyday pleasure of such a quaint and quiet place.  But that’s too poetic.  The fact that Gordes now is such a renowned beauty, a revered stop on the path of tourism, makes those thoughts a bit nostalgic.  There’s only so much room for tourists, and at night I imagine the village quiet, tucked in and looking over the Luberon valley under a blanket of stars.

In fact, that thought is so enticing, I have looked and found the perfect place to stay – Les Bories & Spa. On a “mental voyage” one can skip the tiresome problem of figuring out what to pack and how to plan the easiest way through all of those security checks.  Perhaps we’ll take the TGV from Paris to Avignon, rent a car and in no time arrive at Les Bories.  Our room is simply elegant and understated with a private terrace overlooking the hills.   We’ll be able to dine poolside under crisp canvas umbrellas and explore the village and countryside at our leisure.  It’s ever so easy to understand the lure of Gordes, poised at is with the central 12th-century castle and filled with winding cobblestone lanes.

Charming cobblestone lanes of Gordes

After all of our discoveries, we can return to our tranquil hotel retreat for a glass of wine by the fountain.  Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.