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Add Van Gogh to Your Paris Trip

day trip Paris france

The tiny ville that inspired Van Gogh – © ATOUT FRANCE/Martine Prunevieille

If you are lucky enough to be in Paris … or planning to visit soon … just 17 miles northwest of Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise is a charming little commune on the banks of the Oise River.  This quaint ville attracted Vincent van Gogh and other famous Impressionist artists destined to translate their surroundings into cherished art.

A pleasant day trip from Paris, you will find your journey centered more on mood and imagination than on history.  Catch the 10 a.m. direct train from Paris’ Gare du Nord, and in just 30 minutes you’ll discover a window into the world of Van Gogh, to see the sights he painted in a whirl of artistic expression in the last two months of his life.

I’m not a videographer, but this charming video offers a ‘walking tour’ and specific ‘how-to-go’ information in a quaint and helpful presentation.  As always, double-check specific travel details should schedules and prices change.

The tortured and talented artist moved to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Paul Gachet, though he felt the good doctor in a worse condition than his own.  Nonetheless, they were friends and, in an ironic twist of fate, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” brought nearly the highest auction price of all of his paintings.

The artist was prolific in Auvers, where he produced many of his best-known works – The Church at Auvers, Thatched Cottages by a Hill, Wheat Field with Crows and more. A couple of standard stops include the handsome Chateau d’Auvers that pays homage to Impressionist painters and the Absinthe Museum that evokes the mystique of the potent green liquid that was Van Gogh’s favorite.  To this day, rumors swirl about the so-called mind-altering spirit nicknamed “The Green Fairy.”

Even your visit to Van Gogh’s tiny attic is an understated experience, more in keeping with the bare solitude of an artist than an orchestrated emphasis on historic significance.

Day trip Paris France

Hotel de Ville by Van Gogh

The genuine Auvers experience is less about museum visits and more about immersing yourself in a time and place that inspired the genius of many painters.  Stroll along the river and through the village to see and feel the scenes that inspired the Impressionist paintings.  Wander past the church to the famed wheat field and hillside cemetery where Theo and Vincent Van Gogh are buried.

Before your return to Paris, enjoy a lazy, memorable lunch at Van Gogh’s Auberge Ravoux, where the chef partners with local farmers and muses of yesteryear to create the traditional French cuisine of Van Gogh’s era.  In the middle of the wayside tavern atmosphere, you will cement your experience with one more facet of the life and spirit of the Impressionist colony.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Paris to Chartres – Easy Day Trip!

UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral of Chartres

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres

No need for a tour booking or guide – just purchase your train ticket for an easy trip of just over an hour from Paris Montparnasse station.  You will relish the scenic journey through glowing yellow rapeseed fields, little villes and rolling farmlands on your way to “The Capital of Light and Perfume”.  Of course, the magnificent Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Chartres is the major gem and attraction of the city – a UNESCO World Heritage site – but many appealing sights and experiences await you.

Beyond the storied cathedral and stunning stained glass throughout Chartres; the charming architecture, riverside setting and ancient cobbled lanes will fill your memory bank for years to come.  Choose from a delightful array of crêperies, sidewalk cafés (perhaps in the shadow of the soaring cathedral) and gourmet restaurants for lunch and dinner.

My favorite is no longer – a gorgeous restaurant tucked along the scenic narrow banks of the Eure River.  Still, you must wander along the river, over a little humped bridge and among half-timbered houses with flowers guiding the way.  Beautiful!

Chartres Day Trip from Paris

Flower bedecked banks of the Eure River

Mainly, I want to underscore how easy and non-threatening such a day trip is … with multiple train schedules to and from (at about $40 round trip), with the centrally-located Chartres train station within easy reach of the Cathedral and the rest of the old village center.  So treat yourself and venture out!  You might even choose one of the last trains back to Paris after the enthralling lightshow in the center of the village.

 

Don’t hesitate to contact S. Sheridan with questions or specific requests!
Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Rouen – Where the Seine is “Main Street”

Cafés in Rouen’s historic town centre – ATOUT FRANCE/CRT Normandie/J-C Demais

Rouen lures visitors with a mix of joy and sorrow, architectural heritage, art, museums and compelling cuisine. Just 70 miles northwest of Paris, Rouen gives off a contemporary hum in the midst of spectacular Gothic designs and enchanting timbered houses.

Wander through the popular port city on the Seine, and you’ll discover decades-old evidence of the pounding Rouen suffered during World War II. Though we preferred to stay a few days, Rouen makes an easy day trip from Paris – just an hour by the A13 highway or from the Paris-Saint Lazare train station.

Forgive my always diving into food, but it IS France! This capitol of Normandy boasts many Michelin-starred restaurants, distinct regional fare (with a bow to Canard a la Rouennaise on most menus), creamy fish stews, lovely local cheeses and the popular Calvados apple cider. We particularly relished our meal at Les Maraîchers – one of the oldest on the Place du Vieux Marche, where the market gardeners sold their vegetables. It is a delightfully warm, old-style bistro, a mix of old posters and family photos, decorated pitchers and aged mirrors.

The Rouen Cathedral was a natural starting point for us. Claude Monet’s renowned paintings featured the cathedral façade that is particularly famous for the highest spire in France. Over time, the Allied bombings and fierce storms caused significant damage, but the Gothic cathedral is still among the most beautiful in France. Some 13th-century windows are still decorated with the special cobalt blue known as “the blue from Chartres”.  Our next stop was Saint-Ouen, the Gothic Benedictine abbey where Joan of Arc was sentenced to death in 1431, and even larger than the Rouen cathedral.

Rouen’s hand-made pottery from 18th century to today – © ATOUT FRANCE/Hervé Le Gac

Time for art with a wonderful visit to Musée des Beaux-Arts, featuring exceptional 15th to 20th century works of art from Rubens, Caravaggio, Poussin, Corot and an entire area devoted to the works of Géricault. Several of Monet’s Impressionist masterpieces of the Rouen Cathedral were on display.

Local color and personality always appeal to us, so we wandered along “Little Venice” – Rue Eau de Robec – so named by Flaubert for the small stream that runs through the archways and street. A tiny side street, it was the perfect spot for a quiet glass of wine and a little exploration of the antique shops. In fact, I was able to satisfy my love of pottery, as so many wonderful old plates were available.

It was simply wonderful to absorb the many flavors of Rouen – the riverside and orange-tinted dusk, the ancient churches and transparent skies. In fact, as much as any feature of Rouen, it is the mystical, changing light of the city that has attracted painters, writers and visitors… like us!

We’d love to hear from you!

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France River Cruise for Your List?

Cruise France

Viking River Cruise stateroom with your own veranda

Not that our Bucket List isn’t crammed full, but really – a river cruise anywhere in France seems a “must”.  During a recent visit with our French friends, they described several river journeys that sounded pretty heavenly.  We do know ourselves well enough to realize the smaller boats would be more appealing.

If you don’t know, the “Bucket List” term was inspired by the movie of the same name.  The main stars fashioned a list of things they wanted to do, before they ‘kicked the bucket’…like skydiving, driving a Shelby Mustang and dining at the Chevre d’Or overlooking the Mediterranean.

All things considered, we think a Viking River Cruise through France might be a nice addition. In the so-called “long and short of it”, there is a short cruise from Paris through Normandy and a rather indulgent 15-day excursion that extends that particular cruise to take you to Avignon, Arles and beyond.  Naturally that’s not the extent of cruise offerings.  You can go from Paris to Lyon or Zurich or go west to cruise around the Bordeaux wine region on the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde Rivers.

The accolades for the Viking cruises are noteworthy.  National Geographic, for one, features Viking in their “The 10 Best of Everything” awards.  In 2012, Viking launched six new longships earning significant praise from Cruise Critic Editors.  Viking exceeds expectations with state-of-the-art engineering, balcony cabins, suites and expansive, atrium-style common areas.  Add more than 175 years of cruise experience and carefully-planned itineraries, and you understand the allure.

So back to our Bucket List addition, we might as well go all out with the combo cruise that runs, in essence, the length of France. Viking combines a Normandy adventure with cruises through the southern regions of Burgundy and Provence and visits to Avignon, Arles and Lyon.  Can you imagine a more delightful itinerary? Touches of Monet and Van Gogh. Cuisines of Lyon and Avignon. Cobblestone streets and soaring Gothic architecture. And the magnificent sights of Paris need no description.

Tournon France

Scenic Tournon

I can allow my imagination to take hold, picturing a spacious stateroom, outside – of course – with our own balcony. They have thought of everything – spacious observation lounges and bars with panoramic windows. Wireless internet service, boutique and library.

Talented chefs present a cuisine of fresh, seasonal local vegetables, regional specialties and menus adapted to your tastes. From pleasant and complete breakfast choices to a five-course dinner, we shall be well prepared for active days and pleasant evenings.

Though we tend to strike out on our own and avoid set tours, we believe the Viking experience might be quite worthy of the “Bucket List”.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Adventurous Driving in France

Overlooking Lac Saint-Croix and the Verdon Gorge

Oh the wonder of being naïve!  You can jump on into the water with the belief you will somehow float.  And so it is with driving in France.  I have complete confidence in my driving capabilities, and it’s not like I’ll be driving on the “wrong” side of the road like the Brits!

Don’t be intimidated by driving in France, but I do suggest you  check out a few “signs” and rules of the road.  For example, any notion you might have about negotiating rond-points (roundabouts) should be shelved.  Take the time to learn about this particular non-logical highway ballet.  No, we never had an accident; but an irate La Poste driver purposefully honked at us, as we intruded on his territory.

When my daughter and I were driving around Provence and the Hautes-Alpes, we did experience a couple of adventurous moments.  We enjoyed a picnic along the shores of Lac Saint-Croix, before driving up to the Route de Napoleon overlooking the Verdon Gorge.  Let us say that the road became very interesting with twists, turns and overhanging rocks that made us mentally duck.  As we approached a petite tunnel, we did not know what a blue and white road sign indicated.  In one of those hmmmmm… moments, I simply guessed that the narrow tunnel required us to honk the horn in warning to oncoming drivers.  We made it through the tunnel without incident.

Hmm – What does that sign say?

Driving anywhere outside of your own comfort zone presents challenges that are magnified in a foreign country.  In Lyon, my husband offered us quite an eventful 5 minutes, when he turned into a bus-only lane.  To correct himself, he made a quick right, only to discover we were going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Who’s to criticize?  I did the same thing in Amboise – correction, almost did the same thing.  I began a left turn in Amboise only to face a lady driver simply wagging her finger at me to warn me off.  I could imagine a sort of tsk-tsk to go along with her gesture.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Please take a moment to browse through … and order … my book:

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Latin Quarter Morning – Paris

Paris markets

rue Mouffetard market, Latin Quarter

Bon week-end à vous!

I have enjoyed a lovely beginning to mine. I savored a long pre-dawn phone conversation with my friend in Paris, where she described a dark, rainy morning in the Latin Quarter.  So, as she sipped her coffee and I did the same in Orlando, we shared our news and plans… which are not so very different except for a musical treat … more tomorrow on that!

I will get in my car to run my errands, drive to the grocery store, choose among thousands of products and, yes, some fresh fruit and produce and perhaps a rotisserie chicken. We have the pleasure of shopping here in Orlando at Publix, a very nice supermarket with a strong customer focus.

Paris cafe, Latin Quarter

Café at the bottom of Mouffetard

BUT….yes – all caps….my friend will walk out of her door for a few short blocks to begin her descent through the Saturday market along rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter.

Since they will be dining with friends in the evening, her focus will be on tantalizing desserts to bring; though she will likely pop in to say hello to Fred in the wine shop and stop at the fromagerie for a wedge or two of cheese. She will pass by the sizzling rotisseries filled with plump chickens and potatoes roasting in their juices. Gorgeous fruit and vegetables will invite her attention as will very appealing floral bouquets.

Latin Quarter bakery, Paris

Saine Saveurs patisserie-boulangerie

I know my friend. She will stop for another coffee, perhaps at the bottom of Mouffetard at Cave la Bourgogne, where she can enjoy the fountain view and people watching from an outdoor table.

Voila…then across the street to Saine Saveurs, a wonderful bakery, where we purchase our Galette des Rois to celebrate the New Year.

I would far prefer my friend’s experience, bien sur! No problem. On my own ordinary shopping trip, I will select a little bouquet and fresh croissants to enjoy a vicarious French experience.

Wishing you a Bon Week-end!
We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved


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Overcome French Language Issues!

Lyon and Le mont dor france

Friendly pharmacists in France!

My French vocabulary is decent.  My verb conjugation, however, leaves something to be desired and makes me wonder if I sound:  a) like a charming American making her best effort or b) like an illiterate bumpkin whose courageous effort falls way short of the goal.   For those of you whose language skills may deter you from venturing into the French countryside, I say, “So what?  Go!”

Naturally, I have a couple of interesting stories to accompany those statements.  In early August, after roaming around the West and South regions of France, we parked ourselves in Lyon for a couple of nights.  Over the previous few days, my husband had developed a ring-looking rash on his inner thigh.  I thought it looked like old-fashioned ringworm – we had, after all, been in the fields, farms and general countryside.  And it seemed to be spreading.

Hmmm.  We need advice.  Hmmm.  This situation calls for more than everyday French.  We walked to a nearby pharmacy, where I tried to explain this “cercle, rouge….oui, ici”, and I pointed to the site of the problem.   Too difficult, this conversation.  We called our friend in Paris and had him explain the problem to the pharmacist.  “Ah.  Oui.”  The pharmacist recommended a cream, and we were on our way.

A few days later, we arrived in Le Mont Dore.  No, that town was not chosen by design but definitely by a wandering sort of journey.  The cream had not solved the problem.  We sought another pharmacist (in this much smaller town, by the way), who recommended we see the local doctor.  Bien.

Loire Valley France

Negotiating the laundry in Amboise

This rather straightforward female doctor heard.  She examined.  She conquered.  Apparently there is a kind of insect – usually descending on the countryside in August – that causes this kind of rash.  Voila!  Prescription in hand; we go back to the pharmacy, get the medicine and apply as directed.  All’s well that ends well!

Another unique situation occurred during our stay in Amboise in the Loire Valley.  We found a ‘laverie’ – a laundry center to wash our clothes and were quite proud at negotiating our way through the machine directions and coins required.

There we sat amongst a congenial group – part French-speaking, part English.  The London
bombings had just occurred, so the latter group was abuzz with that occurrence.  When we checked the washer to transfer our laundry to the dryer, the door would not open.  We tried and tried.  The washer door would not open.

Hmmm.  This is a problem.  Our clothes are held hostage.  What do we do?  After a few minutes, we finally spotted a phone number on a posted sign.  Here we go again, I thought.  Again, this is not an occasion for every day, stumbling French.

A man answered the phone.  “Bonjour,” I began.  (Good start, don’t you think?)

“Je suis Americaine et  c’est une problem avec la maquine de la laverie. »  Phew.  I think that was good enough.

“ I speak English, “ he said.  WOW (or was it whew!), I thought.

He and his wife quickly came to the laundromat, and she explained to me that sometimes ‘the wire from the bra gets into the machine’.  In the meantime, my husband was watching her husband fix the machines and saw the teetering plyers drop.  Uh oh.  Suddenly the electricity to the whole place was kaput.  Even the entry/exit door would not open, because – mais oui – it was electronically controlled.  Now WE were hostages!

Well folks, everything ended well.  Electricity on.  Clothes dry.  An adventure shared in Amboise by a bunch of strangers and a pleasant business owner.  So all of this is to say, don’t worry.  You can make it through anything, anywhere in France.  The people are jewels…and you will figure out how to communicate.

We’d love to hear from you

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Planning Your Champagne Tour

Champagne region of France

Verzenay mill in the Champagne vineyards – Atout France/CRT Champagne-Ardenne/Oxley

One side trip scheme for our next adventure in France involves a long weekend jaunt from Paris to Champagne country with our good friends.  Working on that one escapade entails a rather sizeable amount of research and, possibly, makes me realize why some still choose travel agents in planning their trips.  Certainly an experienced agent offers a real value for those who haven’t the time or inclination to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.

I fall into a different category, though, because the anticipation, research and even some of the angst become part of my overall experience.   So many choices, so much delight!

Taking the train eastward is a given, and Rail Europe – the perfect partner.  Assuming the plan remains simple; I find the 1 hour-fifteen-minute trip runs $56 – $84 round trip.  For such a short journey, I would choose the less expensive economy rate.  I can live without first-class comfort for a little over an hour!

Right away this process leads me to think about other possible train trips during our 3-week stay.  A week in Provence, perhaps?  That could mean a TGV ticket to Avignon.  A day trip to Chartres?   A weekend in Bruges?  Oh the many choices one has, when planning a trip!  The real point here is comprehensive research and planning, because multi-day and even multi-country passes purchased in advance of your trip offer considerable savings.

Troyes, Epernay, Reims France

The St Jean district in Troyes – shaped like a champagne cork, when seen from the air – Atout France/CRT Champagne-Ardenne/Oxley

Back to our original plan, we might well want to rent a car to explore the Champagne region with our friends, taking in not only Epernay but Reims and Troyes, as well.  The area offers spectacular scenery, interesting Champagne tours and lots of riverside views for a picnic stop.  Euro Railways offers a combo program – France Rail’n Drive – but it really pays to compare.   For example, they offer a 2-day car rental and 2-day first class train tickets at $333 per person for a compact car.  Included are:   2 days of limitless train trips, unlimited mileage and basic liability, four categories of car and pick-up, drop-off in different cities inside the country where you rent the car.  You also have 30 days to complete your trip.

Let’s look at our original train ticket – $56 per person round trip between Paris and Epernay.  Add two days of car rental – a 4-door Peugeot, for example – would run $99 with liability coverage…  and that’s not per person.   Overall, then, the same 2-day rail and 2-day car trip would cost $56/person for rail and $25/person (sharing the cost) for the car rental.  No, please don’t hold me either to the rates nor the math (!), but clearly the trip for four to travel to Epernay, explore the region for two days via rental car and return by train to Paris would cost no more than $110/person for first class.

Two main points to take away from this mini-planning ‘epistle’:  look at your whole trip to see if multiple train treks might be part of your itinerary and research train and car options to get the best price with the greatest latitude.  While you’re at it, enjoy the whole trip preparation process!

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

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.

The “Place” Called Provence

Provence seaside

Red Rocks Along the Mediterranean

This is such a fun piece about one of our favorite regions … just want to share it again!

Aix-en-Provence.  Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.  Peyrolles-en-Provence.  A Year in Provence.

Interesting list – is there a point here?   Well, yes there is.  I’m not fond of hair-splitting nonsense, and I just read a piece that in essence said, “Sure, I’ll tell you how to get to Provence, but it doesn’t exist.”  R-e-a-l-l-y?

I then receive a lesson on the official designation of the southeastern French region as “Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur”.  And there’s a long geography lesson about the Alpes and the French Riviera, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône.  I do understand the fastidious mind of a hair-splitter, but I am given to the spirit of places and people; and I assure you Provence very much exists.

Provence lavender

Sweet aroma of lavender

It was the birthplace of the essential patriarch of Provence, Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914) – a man who took his law degree but so devoted himself to the writing of poetry in “Provençal”, that he would one day found a literary society and publish a dictionary of the regional tongue.  In truth, Provence was the hero of all of his poems, and in 1904 Mistral was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature.

All of that is to undergird the intellectual affirmation of Provence, but there is the Provence of my heart and the hearts of so many.  There is the Provence I enjoyed with my good friend and with my daughter – the winding roads to Gordes and Roussillon, the delightful dinners under plane trees in Aix-en-Provence and the glass(es) of wine along the Mediterranean.

Provence France

Ceramic Cicadas

There is the Provence I shared with my husband, who remembers low hills and riotous fields of sunflowers, quiet villages and boules battles, warm sunlight and bright days.  Stopping by the side of the road for an armful of lavender.  Wandering tiny lanes up to Greoux-les-Bains.  Medieval ruins and savory cuisine, the blues skies in the universe.  Cicadas and ceramics.

I will defer to the gentleman who argues about the lack of a ‘line’ here or there that designates “Provence”.  I will as strongly argue for the ability to close my eyes and see a Parasol pine, to smell the sea along the craggy, red landscape that dips down to the Mediterranean.  To feel the rampant joie-de-vivre in Avignon, as well as the quiet air of reverence, while overlooking the Rhône from the ramparts of the Papal Palace.

Provence

Roussillon ochre buildings

Just as there is a God, there is a Provence; and we love her!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

 

 

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Thomas Jefferson’s Love of France

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.

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

Millau – An Audacious Work of Art

Millau viaduct – the highest in the world and taller than the Eiffel Tower – © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

 

In case you believe that Gustave Eiffel’s influence ended with his renowned Eiffel Tower, you are quite mistaken.  As former President Jacques Chirac declared, “’The Millau Viaduct is a magnificent example, in the long and great French tradition, of audacious works of art, a tradition begun at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by the great Gustave Eiffel.'”

The award-winning and record-setting  “le Viaduc de Millau” opened to traffic on December 16, 2004, to unending praise and interest and, indeed, has swiftly moved into the highest ranks of engineering “wonders of the world.”

Poor Millau.  The little village in the south of France was branded, scowled at for the traffic bottlenecks she presented. For thirty years the A75 auto route, planned as an efficient modern highway, had remained unfinished.  Before the Millau Viaduct, travelers had to cross the River Tarn by a bridge in the town of Millau at the valley bottom.  The town became the “great black spot” of traveling, with miles of congestion and hours of delay during the summer surge of traffic.

Finding the solution was technically demanding, given the area’s violent winds and the challenging geology of the deep Tarn Valley.  After ten years of research, the dual talents of structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster provided the design solution.  Foster described his project as a “sculpture in the landscape…a dialogue between nature and the man-made.”

Millau Viaduct – © ATOUT FRANCE/Patrice Thébault/Eiffage – Foster and partners

The $523 million project broke three world records:  highest pylons in the world at 725 and 803 feet; highest mast in the world at 1,130 feet; highest road bridge deck in the world – 890 feet.  The project simply defies the imagination of most worldly creatures.

The end result required a delicate marriage of knowledge, courage, talent, teamwork and tenacity – and a measure of good fortune!  The extraordinary construction embraced the latest public works techniques, bringing together multiple technologies – laser technology, GPS, hydraulic rams, climbing formwork, special asphalt and high performance concrete.  At the peak of the project, nearly 600 employees worked toward the successful conclusion of the viaduct.

At last, the viaduct completes the essential final link in the A75-A71 auto route axis from Paris to Spain.  The bridge considerably increases convenience and reduces the cost of travelling to the south.

This area was rural France, ignored by the rest of the country and left alone to its craggy terrain, ancient traditions and Roquefort cheese.  Clearly, the viaduct opened this flower in southwest France to a new era of expanded tourism and economic growth.
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
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Pitfalls of Alpes Maritimes Driving

Alppes Maritimes

Quite the curves along La Route!

Well, it’s February in Florida, and we’re going from a high of 82 today to a low of 49 on Thursday. Such is the manic-depressive weather pattern in the South and many other places this year. Europe and, of course, France in particular have had record snowfalls.

The Riviera Times reported today that the Alpes Maritimes and the Var are suffering through many accidents and power outages caused by the weekend snowfall. Today, they expect more – snow, sleet, stormy weather – and hopefully zero traffic disasters. Toulon, Sophia-Antipolis and Antibes are affected and, according to the Times, “Ice in Tinée also means that drivers will have to take particular care on the roads, while la route de Napoleon in high Grasse is also affected.”

Personally, we cannot imagine driving the roads of that region in snowy or icy conditions. On the brightest, driest day one is challenged. Narrow roads wrap around stone ridges. Paved lanes suitable for one tiny Morris Minor, perhaps, thread their way above gorges; and the ‘guard rails’ are either absent or eight inches tall. Then there are the tunnels, again wide enough for petite cars…yet we pass buses on the la Route de Napoleon highway? Amazing.

France driving

My sketch of near disaster!

Which reminds me quite clearly of an adventure with my daughter. We, indeed, were driving along La Route, headed south. The road was eyes-wide-open narrow, when it veered slightly west. Just at that moment, in that turn, I reached for the windshield wash and wipers. Also just at that moment a large tourist bus showed itself coming directly towards us. I could not stop my hand. The wash and wipers came on. The sun was blinding. I could see virtually nothing for a split second.God is good. We lived through the moment, as sure proof that God takes care of ladies wandering about eastern France in a rental car!

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

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

A Revolutionary Trip to Versailles

Versailles RER train from Paris France

RER C line from Paris to Versailles

I’m sure we all share the disturbing tendency to be walking or driving to a particular destination without being fully “in the moment”.  We suddenly realize we’ve passed our turn or are surprised to find ourselves arriving at our target, without remembering each step of the route.

Imagine, then, stepping on the RER in Paris only to find yourself in the palatial lap of luxury.  The train?  Elegance and art?  Yes, that’s exactly what you will discover on the RER C line to Versailles.  Your intention might have been a simple, pragmatic transit from “here to there”; but this train transports you in such style, you will be altogether removed from the bustle of the city to the serene grandeur of the Palace of Versailles   Wouldn’t you know that Paris could so completely transform an otherwise mundane trip?

During your 20-kilometre journey, you can enjoy beautifully-designed ceilings, a mock library and several memorable recreations of Marie-Antoinette’s royal chateau.  With precise attention to detail, the Palace of Versailles funded the makeover, in which interior train walls were layered with high-tech plastic film.

I’d say it’s an extremely clever marketing ploy that is sure to inspire more trips to the former home of King Louis XIV.

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

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

 

 

Rail Europe’s Exceptional Passes

Colorful carriages in Market Square in Bruges, Belgium

An afternoon overlooking the colorful carriages in the Market Square, Bruges

One of the things we particularly enjoy about traveling in France and in Europe, in general, is the exceptional rail network.  When we spent a summer primarily in France, we planned well in advance and secured a Rail Europe pass for multiple days of travel and a long-term rental/purchase plan with Auto Europe.

Though we mainly traveled in France, we purchased a rail pass that allowed travel in three countries.  We knew we would travel in France and Italy to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle in Florence. By adding “Benelux” as our “third country”, we were able to travel to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg; as Rail Europe treats the three as one.  Though a whirlwind kind of scoop through the three countries, it was nonetheless a great experience to set foot in these extraordinary cities.

Bruges, in particular, was a warm and welcoming city laced with canals, steeped in history and entertaining with its assortment of beers. We walked about the beautiful city and spent an afternoon on Market Square overlooking the Provincial Palace – an absolute pleasure!

In Amsterdam, we were unfortunate in thinking that our choice of hotel by the station would be in the city center, when it turns out it was quite far away by a metro station.  Still, we enjoyed an evening along the canal and checking out the intriguing nightlife.  I admit to feeling like a little girl in patent leather shoes, as we passed along the red-light district.

Luxembourg City - historic site on cliffs overlooking two rivers

We enjoyed the cliffs and valleys of Luxembourg City

Luxembourg was a real treat, and this time our hotel was nearly across the street from the train station.  Luxembourg City is perched high on cliffs overlooking the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, so we wandered past pleasant neighborhoods down to the valley and found an elevator to return us up to the city center.  We found a delightful large square, where several restaurants offered open-air dining.

Though we only briefly touched down in these delightful cities, we enjoyed expanding our experience beyond France.  So – worth noting – if you choose to purchase a multi-country Rail Europe Pass, by all means considered adding Benelux to your itinerary.  And you will find complete travel information on Rail Europe’s excellent web site.

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

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

 

Visit The French Island of Corsica

Erbalunga beach, Corsica

Erbalunga beach, Corsica

Dramatic landscapes, baroque churches and picturesque villages portray an appealing Corsica, your ideal French island holiday destination and welcoming land of contrasts.  Bastia rolls out a zenith of sensory experiences with the scents of wild maquis shrubs and lavender and the sights of old ports, rugged mountains, colorful hills and an endless view of the sea.

Though you can fly into the local airport, it’s more fun to take the ferry to the number one port in the Mediterranean.  Over 2 million passengers make the voyage yearly, from Marseilles, Nice, Toulon, Genoa, Livorno, Savone and La Spezia.  When you arrive, you’ll want to rent a car, scooter or motorbike for exploring the countryside and local villages.

The second largest town on the island, Bastia is a busy commercial centre with a population of 50,000, a town that offers a dynamic mix of old world charm, interesting regional cuisine and enough history, culture and sightseeing ventures to interest and entertain you.  As always, the local tourist office offers an excellent first stop to learn about island cruises, restaurants and things to do.

Three distinct areas await Bastia visitors – the citadel, the old town and the old port.   Once the childhood home of Victor Hugo, the old town is a perfect starting point for exploring.  Against the backdrop of sleek yachts in the harbor, you’ll discover the faded charm of 18th-century buildings set along narrow streets with wrought iron balconies punctuating the mix of pastel colors.

Calvi Port, Corsica
Calvi Port, Corsica

The Quai des Martyrs de la Liberation offers wonderful views of the Vieux Port (Old Port).  The harbor area is filled with bars and restaurants for dining and partying into the Corsican night.  Corsican wines are popular and other local specialties include Casanis pastis, Patrimonio Muscat and soft white cheese from Brocciu.  At the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, bargain your way through the Saturday market for local fare from prisutu (smoked ham) and figatellu (fried sausages) to migliaccilou – delicious, hearty pancakes with goat cheese – and jams.

The Genoese citadel provides a signature silhouette to the city landscape.  Though the region lacks the historic appeal of the old port and town, the impressive fort, gardens and elegant homes are interesting to see.  Between the old and new ports, wander the streets to discover local bars and nightlife.  Bar Odeon is a popular local watering hole where Corsicans sip pastis and trade animated tales.  La Belle Epoque on rue Pino features romantic candlelit dinners and nightly impersonations of famous French singers, such as Edith Piaf.

For beach enjoyment, try the long stretches of sand south of town to avoid Bastia’s more crowded pebble beach.  North of Bastia, you’ll discover a spectacular blend of isolated beaches, vineyards and rugged countryside.  The Cap Corse peninsula is dotted with small picturesque villages – Macinaggio, Saint-Florent and Erbalunga — each offering local charm and excellent dining choices.   Whether water or mountain sports, tracing history or relaxing along the port, you will discover a fascinating world apart from traditional mainland Europe.

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

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

 

Fast and Fantastic TGV

Zipping around France by TGV

 

Everyone who travels by train in France and beyond has enjoyed the speed and luxury of the high-speed trains known as TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train).  On April 4, 1971 the first test run of the TGV was conducted.  Thirty fours later that test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train with a speed of 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph).  With Paris as its hub, this high-speed French rail network of 450 trains connects throughout Europe offering a favorable alternative to plane.

Now these superb trains operate all over France, with diverse connections to neighboring countries.  Paris to London is now 2 hours and 35 minutes.  Paris to Brussels is 1 hour and 25 minutes.  New direct routes connect Charles de Gaulle Airport to main tourist regions like the Loire Valley and southern France.

One of our most pleasant trips took us from Paris to Bordeaux in just under 4 hours.  If we had made the trip by car, it would have taken over 6 hours.  Instead, we were able to relax in comfortable Premier seating with two seats facing one another across a table and pleasant meal service from an attendant.  A bar-buffet car with a complete selection of food and beverages also was available.

And it’s good to know that the TGV’s green technology minimizes the impact on the environment, with compacted and recycled waste, low-energy light bulbs, air conditioning that adapts to the number of travelers and even the drivers trained to power off when going downhill.

Travelers from the U.S. will enjoy savings by planning and booking rail travel on RailEurope in advance.  Many versatile passes are available allowing you 9 days of travel throughout France, for example, or offering travel to multiple countries in Europe.

Everyone owes themselves at least one of these trips in their lives.  So plan your travel in advance and look forward to relaxing train travel and panoramic views, as you whisk toward your chosen destination.  Enjoy.

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

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

 

Plan Ahead for Long Flights

Anticipation is part of the journey

For long airplane flights, leave nothing to chance!  Unless you really want to spend eight hours on a plane reading everything from the copy on wine bottle labels and pretzel bags to the same, worn flight magazine you read on the way over, be prepared!

Our story has amusing elements, but the reality was quite painful.  We were late for our flight from Charles de Gaulle to Orlando.  While grabbing a quick croissant and coffee, we heard our names called in the most charming French accent.

“Monsieur et Madame Sheridan.”  We laugh about it now.  After all, it’s not everyone who has the privilege of hearing their name over the loudspeaker in the CDG airport!  With no time for our usual stop in the book store; we head to the gate, where three airline agents are waiting.  They close the door of the plane, as soon as we board.

Settled in our seats, we hear the dreadful announcement that electrical problems with the video system prevent music and movies from operating during the flight.  We are doomed to eight hours of self entertainment.  No books.  No magazines or newspapers.  Only a pad on which to write and one another, and fortunately we do like to converse.

Now, we leave nothing to chance. More so than ever before, plane trips seize your time without mercy.  Once on board, you’re a hostage in the air with less freedom than a prisoner in Leavenworth.  We take a few steps to ease the pain and make our ‘incarceration’ pass a little faster in relative comfort.

We begin with attitude and acceptance.  We made the reservation and planned the trip.  We knew the timeline and personal limitations, so we don’t fight what we can’t change.  It’s the same theory, really, as being stuck in traffic.  There’s not a thing we can do about it, so we don’t waste time and emotional energy railing against the inconvenience.

Well in advance, we pick out a couple of books and magazines, a crossword puzzle book and a notebook and pen.  And we add a few snacks – nuts, pretzels, candy or cookies – something to nibble on between meals or, heaven forbid, if we have unexpected delays.

A rainy morning in St. John’s

And therein lies another travel story.  On our return trip from Paris, a medical emergency forced us to land in Newfoundland … in an icy rain storm.  After the passenger was whisked off to the hospital, we sat in line on the tarmac waiting our turn for de-icing.  Finally, the smaller plane ahead of us left.  For the next hour or so, they tried without success to de-ice our plane.

Guess where we spent the night? Those snacks came in handy, as we waited for immigration personnel and buses to arrive.  While the airline arranged hotels for all of the passengers, we couldn’t access anything but our carry-on luggage.  That’s when you want to have tucked a few things in your bag!  We had no problem recognizing our fellow passengers the next morning.  All of us boarded the buses in the same clothing we wore the previous night.

Remember that your trip includes your anticipation, the flight, destination stay, and the memories that return with you.  Embrace the whole package, and log your memories in a journal to enjoy on a nostalgic, rainy day.

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

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

 

Train à Grande Vitesse

The aerodynamic and ever so stylish TGV Duplex

Did you know that it has been 30 years, since the first high-speed train route connected Paris and Lyon?  With the recent completion of the Rhine-Rhone High Speed rail line, travel to eastern France just stepped up a considerable notch. The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – High Speed Train) trains zip along at a record-holding speed of 322 kph (201 mph), allowing you greater freedom to explore cities far and wide.

The new Eastern Branch route is interregional and runs from Dijon to Mulhouse. With Paris as the TGV network hub, this new link shortens the journey between Paris and Zurich by 30 minutes.

Another new route – The Southern branch – will be added to provide speedy connections between Dijon and Lyon and will help connect to Germany, eastern France and the Saône and Rhône valleys, the Mediterranean arc and Nice. Just imagine “flying” from Lyon to Frankfurt in less than five hours! According to RailEurope, 11 million passengers will take advantage of the new Rhine-Rhone TGV service.

And it isn’t just speed that will be achieved – you’ll travel in aerodynamic style on the Paris to Basel and Zurich routes. The new TGV Duplex is the only double-decker high-speed train on European networks, hosting travelers in colorful, comfortable interiors with screens in each car showing travel info, much like you see in airplanes. We’re looking forward to that trip!

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

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

 

 

Saint-Aignan Celebrates New Neighbors

New residents of Saint-Aignan

 

An air of excitement and celebration is spilling through the Cher valley and Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, indeed through all of France.  Saint-Aignan’s populace recently expanded from its’ nearly 4000 residents to add two unique neighbors – Yuan Zi and Huan Huan –lovely giant pandas who are on loan from China  for ten years.

They are the first pandas to make France their home since 1973.  Surely they needed a rest after taking an 11-hour flight from China and another 3-hour drive from Paris to their new home.  It’s rather amusing to imagine Yuan Zi and Huan Huan in flight, tucked in their oversized seats with bamboo set before them on their lap trays.

They will reside in the ever-popular Zoo Parc de Beauval in the Loire-et-Cher town of Saint-Aignan.  They join a fascinating mix of white tigers and lions, koalas, sea lions, kangaroos and other assorted primates, reptiles and exotic birds.  One of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Parc is home to about 4,600 animals and is renowned for working with endangered species.

When you visit the zoo, be sure to drive along the Route de Beauval, a lovely little country lane that winds past soft pink flowering trees, Italian cypress, apple orchards and sun-splashed rapeseed fields.  Well-manicured gardens wrap around the houses you’ll see, set either close to the road behind little stone walls and thick hedges or set back amongst a copse of poplars.  It really is a pastoral drive, as you head toward Saint-Aignan.

Saint-Aignan on the Cher

A Renaissance château is the centerpiece of Saint-Aignan, in the midst of the medieval houses of the village.  The striking view from the château terraces overlooks the 11th-century town and the rolling landscape of the Cher valley.  We wandered down narrow streets past balconies of lacy iron, geranium-bordered windows and a few half-timbered houses.

For our finale, a picnic by the Cher, we stopped in a little patisserie to pick up sandwiches and found an alimentaire for wine and apples.  Parfait!

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

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

3 More Reasons to Visit Provence

 

Flower market, Aix-en-Provence

Give me time, and I can fill a book with reasons you should travel to this remarkable region!  First, let’s look to the towns and villages – Avignon, the Papal Palace and retreat on the Rhône.  Aix-en-Provence, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Gordes, Cassis overlooking the Mediterranean, and the sprawling natural landscape of the Camargue.  In Aix, we duck around a corner to find the perfect café in the sun for lunch.  The friendly owner recommends plats and a Côtes de Provence Rosé.  We dine in Greoux le Bain next to a friendly young couple from Sophia Antipolis.  They insist we join them for a typical digestif. Phew!  Marc de Provence, I believe she called the drink, and it was s-t-r-o-n-g!  Thus the engaging people join the enchanting towns as reasons for our love of Provence.

Extraordinary Roman ruins point the ways of old Roman roads and customs, of religious communities and trade routes.  The amphitheatre in Nîmes, the Pont du Gard aqueduct above the city and ancient fountains in tiny hilltop towns – each provides a fascinating view of the past.  The defensive walls around Aigues-Morte and the secluded Romanesque abbeys – serene retreats from a land once thought to be sauvage (wild), a land routinely ravaged by Mistral winds through the seasons.

Along the rocky seafront by Saint Clair

And the Mediterranean spreads like luminous turquoise peacock feathers along the coast.  We stop in Bandol for a lazy lunch under wisteria-draped balconies. The markets along the water lure us with handmade soaps, fabric-covered baskets, pestos and Italian knits. It is each and every one of these experiences that nurture our love of Provence.  We find a rocky seaside path near Saint Clair to take a solitary walk along the coast.

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

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

Metz on the Moselle and Seille

Straddling the Moselle, the Moyen-Pont bridge in Metz and the Temple Neuf - © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent

So many cities and villages in France spread along the leafy banks of gently flowing rivers.  Metz is no exception, where nearly 14 miles (22 km) of the Moselle and Seille riverfronts contribute to the appeal and tranquil rhythm of the city.  The sparkling capitol of the Lorraine department in northeastern France continues to evolve into an interesting and thriving city with heavy influence from Germany and Luxembourg.

Just 80 minutes from Paris on the new TGV Est-European train, Metz combines 3000 years of history with an appealing flower-filled landscape, appreciation for the past and excitement about the future.  The university adds another energetic and cultural dimension to the spirited city.   We are particularly fond of scenic water views, so we explore the river areas first.

In Metz, ancient gardens open on to promenades, and the verdant open-space Seille Park offers an ideal leisure and sports venue as well as a fascinating environmental experience.  The lagoon, reed beds and wet pond  were designed to treat storm water, and perennials mix with towering oaks, maples and sycamores to set a peaceful place for quiet walks.  North of the old city center, charming 18th-century neighborhoods hug the Moselle and the Grand Island Saulcy.  Especially with reflections in the water, you’ll enjoy a beautiful view over the old town from Pont Saint-Marcel.

Saint-Étienne de Metz – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent

The recently opened Centre Pompidou mirrors the ambitions of Paris’ Pompidou center.  Together with the Metz Metropole region and the Musee National d’Art Moderne, the stimulating exhibits tap your hunger for contemporary art.   La Cour d’or houses the art, architecture and archeology museums, each illuminating the history of the city and surrounding areas as well as displaying art from the 15th to 20th centuries.

One of the most beautiful buildings in Metz is the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne at place d’Armes with the third-tallest nave in France.  Overlooking the river, the Cathedrale has several beautiful stained glass windows by Chagall, and little canopy-covered café tables provide a delightful place to take in the majestic architecture.

When it comes to Lorraine cuisine, think creamy quiche and lovely rabbit dishes, Mirabelle plum treats, Savoy raclettes and fondues.   Brandy.  Excellent lagers spill through the outdoor terraces in warm weather.  It won’t take long for you to discover your favorite dining spots.

Guidelines and inside tips are nice to have, but always allow your own sense of discovery to lead you to those perfect little places and surprises that make your holiday unique.
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Absorbing the Charm of Chartres

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres

Every October, the Artisanales de Chartres (Chartres Arts & Crafts) presents a famous exhibition, the works of over 500 skilled crafts and tradesmen. And heaven only know how much artistic and creative talent is in Chartres year round. Known especially for magnificent stained glass, you can see for yourself exceptional displays of ancient and contemporary windows, mirrors, lamps and more at the International Stained-Glass Centre and the Stained-Glass gallery.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. A mere day trip by train from Paris’ Montparnasse station, it’s a scenic journey through blazing yellow rapeseed fields, small towns and flourishing farmlands. Arriving in Centre Ville, you are just steps from the famous Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, The town of Chartres might duck into the shadows of the UNESCO World Heritage site; instead, on the small hill overlooking the Eure River, the pretty town sparkles as the Capitol of Light and Perfume.

We stopped at an outdoor café in the shadows of the cathedral to plan our day over coffee. We were more interested in absorbing the atmosphere of the town than in making studious tours. We wandered through some of the prettiest streets and lanes we had ever encountered. Flower-filled parks weave through the city with many choices for relaxing in peace: The Bishop’s Gardens, Andre Gagnon Park with 65 varieties of roses, and the Sakurai Gardens with a view over the town and cathedral.

From the high ground of the cathedral, the steps and floral-lined paths wind downward to the pastoral waters of the Eure. As we explored the half-timbered old buildings along the stream, we were instantly drawn to Le Moulin de Ponceau.

In an ancient building just next to the bridge, the restaurant spills from its handsome interior to an outdoor terrace by the water – simply a gorgeous sight and a very pleasant dining choice. Throughout the town, you can find a plentiful supply of charming brasseries and restaurants to satisfy any yen for crêpes or paninis, farm-fresh soups and classic French cuisine. We always prefer a peaceful setting, and this day our choice was flawless.

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

A Mere Mistake – Voila! – Monaco

Elegant designs painted on Monaco buildings

First, let me rush to tell you that I know Monaco is not France, but please … bear with me.  My daughter and I were driving along the “Moyenne Corniche” to visit the village of Eze in the South of France.  It was a cool, sunny morning, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to one of my favorite spots on earth.  We had plenty of time to enjoy the village, before returning to Nice to catch a 3:00 train back to Paris.

Hmm … I missed the turn to Eze, and the next exit was Monaco.  We found ourselves hurtling forward on the autoroute through a very long tunnel and around curve after curve, as if Monaco were a magnet that would not let go.  What were we to do?

We simply followed the line of traffic and ended up in a parking garage beneath the Oceanographic Museum.  We ascended an elevator and escalator to discover that the beautiful museum is poised high above the Mediterranean, as if the building grows out of the cliff at the water’s edge.

We knew our time was limited, but there was no way we were going to land in Monaco without exploring.  We wandered along pedestrian lanes past the most tastefully painted buildings we had ever seen.  We peeked through doorways at quaint restaurants readying for lunch customers.  We were struck by the cleanliness and soft pastel palette of colors.

After only a few minutes, we found ourselves in a large plaza across from – “Is THAT the palace?”  Indeed it was, and we moved forward to an incredible sight – the changing of the guard.  It most assuredly was a pinch-me moment – losing our way, landing in the principality of Monaco and witnessing the elegant guards change watch.  Only a glimpse of Prince Albert II might have surpassed that moment.

Changing of the guard ceremony

We later learned that the ceremony takes place every day promptly at 11:55 in front of the royal entrance.  In full dress uniform, the guards perform in a tradition that has not changed for more than a century.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

A Weekend in Troyes

Stop for lunch in the St. Jean historic district © ATOUT FRANCE/CRT Champagne-Ardenne/Oxley

Just 90 minutes by train from Paris, Troyes makes an ideal weekend retreat to enjoy the enchanting combination of historic architecture, lively markets and hospitable cafes and restaurants.  And as if that were not enough to entertain you; you’ll find impressive designer clothing bargains, as Troyes is the European capital of factory outlets!

The old center of Troyes in the south of the Champagne region is a remarkably preserved collection of medieval buildings, arguably one of the finest in all of France.  Pedestrian lanes weave through the charming 16th century, half-timbered buildings and along the city’s 10 remarkable churches and cathedrals that display over 9,000 meters of stained glass.

Stop in at the tourist center in the train station for an excellent walking tour booklet – “Troyes in Champagne Visiting Card.”  Though it’s difficult to imagine from the ground, the city outline forms a Champagne cork (but of course – this is the Champagne region of France!)  The Saint-Jean medieval center lies at the base of the cork,  and the Hotel de Ville and churches at the top.

Cross the tranquil Canal de la Haute Seine to discover museums and many of Troyes’ oldest buildings in the ancient city district. Wander along intimate cobblestone streets, and let your imagination flow back to the time Troyes was a center of stained glass and textiles, a metropolis in the making with Italian sculptors, wealthy merchants and an abundance of artisans.  From the 14th to the 17th centuries, the artisans of Troyes are said to have produced one-third of France’s stained glass.

Three of the dominant late Renaissance buildings are the Hotel du Lion Noir overlooking rue Emile Zola, the town hall – Hotel de Ville – and Hotel de Marisy.  Mansions mix with churches, a graceful Gothic cathedral and the small Gothic Saint-Jean-au-Marche church (where Henry V of England married Catherine of France) at the quarter’s center.  Further along your walk, you will discover the elegant Gothic Cathedrale of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint Paul, constructed over 400 years from the 13th Century.  Here and at the Church of Saint-Madeleine are stunning examples of the fine stained glass of Troyes.

In fact, there are so many interesting sights in Troyes, it’s a good idea to find the perfect café in the St. Jean district, absorb the flavor of this delightful area, and plan your very own tour over lunch..
Europcar english 120x60 PLEASE DO NOT USE

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

The Salt Marshes of Ile de Ré

Colorful ports along Ile de Ré

Just off the mid-Atlantic coast of France, the Ile de Ré enjoys some of the sunniest climate’s in France, much like that of the Cote d’Azur.  The landscape reflects the island’s mild climate with pines and palms vying with salt marshes and silky sand beaches.  In addition to serene vistas, Ile de Ré has many claims to fame.  Home to the Citadel (France’s largest correctional facility), it was a departure point for Richard Dreyfus en route to Devil’s Island.  But, today a different topic rises to the top – the salt marshes.

Originally four, narrowly-divided islands, the Ile de Ré transformed over a period of time to one island.  Salt marshes formed along bays; and though production has decreased significantly since the early 1900’s, the “Fleur de Sel” – French gourmet salt is still produced today.  In Loix, the Salt Marsh Museum offers guided tours of the marshes, but there seems no more delightful  way to experience the mystique of this landscape than by cycling along the marshes south of Loix.  You’ll enjoy a multi-sensory experience with views of the wild marshes sheltering herons and other wildlife and the distinctly sharp smell of iodine emanating from the salt flats.

The salt pans near Loix

Among your treasured keepsakes from the island, Fleur de Sel is a must – perhaps purchased from the Esprit du Sel.  You can choose from the Pelin’s Grey Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel or specially flavored salts.  Then, from your own kitchen, you can resurrect the fine memories of your Ile de Ré holiday.

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Route Napoléon to Gap

The citadel rises from the cliffs in Sisteron

 

After lunch in Castellane, we took to the Route Napoléon, vaguely heading northwest toward Gap (yes, it was another of our wandering days.)   The road follows the historic march of Napoléon I and his 1200 men from Elba to Grenoble, in his quest to overthrow Louis XVIII.

While they made their way along little trails and mule tracks (in the snow no less), we drove on paved roads through an increasingly dramatic landscape.  In fact, the drive offered some white-knuckle moments, so it is difficult to imagine forging your way on horseback in inclement weather.

An interesting bend in the road!

It is said that Napoléon spent the night at the Château de Malijai on the 4th of March, before pressing forward to the capital to regain power.  It is not that we intended to trace those historic steps, but we were headed for Gap without hopes of staying the night in a sprawling Château.  No, a clean and comfortable hotel room would suit us just fine.

One of the most dramatic sights of our journey came, when we approached Sisteron along the Durance River.  The pre-Roman village clings to the rocky cliffs on the west side of the river, where the centuries old citadel looms like a protective angel over the town.  Parts of the town still are protected by the 14th-century walls and well-preserved towers.

Through the years, Sisteron suffered, one assault after another – sieges during the Wars of Religion, seven plague epidemics and typhus; so much so that much of the populace was decimated.  During World War II, prisoners were interred in the imposing citadel, though they would be freed by members of the Resistance.

Today, after all of the mayhem of years past, Sisteron enjoys being the rather quiet “Gate to Provence”, a midpoint between the sea and the Alps that enjoys 300 days of sun per year.

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

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

A Pleasant Day Trip to Auxerre

Auxerre's renowned half-timbered houses

 

Today, let’s take a morning train from Paris Bercy to visit the capital of the Yonne Department in Burgundy.  Auxerre is just an hour-and-a-half southeast of Paris, perfectly poised on the Yonne River and rich in culture, history and beauty.

The Office of Tourism on the banks of the Yonne is the perfect first stop to gather information, rent bicycles or book boat trips. 

Our goal really is just to wander and absorb the city – the unique half-timbered houses, the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, the Place Saint-Nicolas and the tranquil riverside sights.  We have learned to avoid over planning and allow a natural pace and curiosity to guide us. 

Just behind the tourism office, the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne commands a remarkable view of the river. Designed in grand Gothic style, the Cathedral’s fame stems from three remarkable doorways, intricate bas-reliefs and some of the finest stained-glass windows in all of France.   We enjoy the perfect light of day to see the bright red and blue windows that depict David and Goliath and more. 

Cathedrale Saint-Étienne

As early as the 1st century, Auxerre’s position as a center of routes by land and river fostered trade.  In fact, its’ position on the Yonne prompted the growth of a large mariner community devoted to the transportation of goods to Paris and beyond.  After religious communities added to the town, the population increased and protective ramparts were constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries.  When we walk beneath the rampart arches, it is impossible not to envision the cloistered town of long ago. 

 In 1995, the Auxerrois were pleased to be labeled “Town of Art and History,” signaling an appreciation of the architectural heritage that overlooks the narrow streets.  And it is those streets we wander,  fascinated by the half-timbered houses, art deco architecture and intricate carvings. 

(Click to enlarge)

Finally, we circle back to the river and, to our delight, discover Le Maxime Hotel restaurant.  The outdoor terrace was the ideal spot to enjoy a late lunch and a glass of the regional Burgundy Chablis, while watching the boats glide along the Yonne.  Soon afterwards, we are back on the train to Paris, moving from the softer sounds of a riverfront town to the vibrant buzz of the city.

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Car Rentals and Roundabout Chaos

The famous Etoile roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe (click photo to enlarge)

Don’t be afraid to rent a car to explore France; but as daring as we can be, we definitely skipped driving in Paris.  Rent a bike.  Walk.  Take the Metro or a bus. 

Just  look at the photo of Paris’ most famous roundabouts – The Etoile at the head of Champs-Elysées and Place Concorde at the foot of said boulevard.  Need we say more?  (Actually, for some real fun, go to our facebook page to see the video.)

For drivers in France, roundabouts (rond-points) provide mystique, madness and mirth.  These efficient traffic control designs become less so, unless you understand the rules.  You must employ rapid reflexes to flip from gas to brake, and you must have a clear fix on direction.

 Generally, one gives absolute priority to the right at each and every intersection, where it is remotely possible for a vehicle to turn into your path from a side highway, street, lane or drive.  No excuses allowed, my friends.  Any collision with a vehicle arriving from your right is indisputably your fault.

Except.  The French love exceptions to the rule.  That brings us to priorities in the roundabout.  Forget the first rule.  The Anglo might reason that if you are on the outside of the circle of traffic, you would have the priority to exit.  Wrong.  The guy in the 30-year-old Citroen, decorated with the dents of old traffic wars, has the right to cross in front of you from the center of the circle.  To be perfectly clear, watch out and be prepared to brake or give it the gas, should one of these inner circle demons race suddenly across your path.

Basically - no, no, no. You do not have the priority here, Monsieur!

Finally, the design and signage of roundabouts require either careful advance study of your directions or immeasurable patience.  We are not the only ones in the world to go around two or three times, before discovering which exit to take.  Direction Marseille or Paris?  What?  I’m going to Rouen.  No difference. 

The signs will show either the next small village or the grand city some 500 kilometers to the North.  Add to your confusion the speed and aggression of the roundabout drivers; and you will understand the suggestion to either prepare or relax and circle as often as needed, until you figure it out. 

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Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

Rail Travel in France

Watch the flurry of trains from Le Train Bleu

 

There’s nothing quite like the excitement that precedes travel excursions, and the extraordinary Gare de Lyon station in Paris accelerates your anticipation.  High-speed trains stand at the ready with their sleek, bullet-shaped engines, promising whisk-away adventure.  The overhead screens flash departures and destinations.  People bustle about from café to newsstand to train platforms (voie, in French).

There are special pleasures in store for you at Gare de Lyon.  Built for the 1900 World Exposition, it combines the classic architecture of that era with the ultra-modern improvements needed to accommodate high-speed trains and first-class train service. 

And the opulent Le Train Bleu is a must, at least for an espresso, before your departure.  In fact, many Paris visitors, whether or not they are traveling from the station; choose to enjoy some time in this extraordinary brasserie-gourmet restaurant.  Dramatic gilded and painted ceilings, sculpture and portraits mix with velvet drapes and impeccable, quiet service to offer a step back to the turn of the century.  Enjoy a quiet meal or glass of wine, while looking out on the flurry of activity in the station below.  Just as an interesting aside, Luc Besson filmed a “Nikita” scene here, and regulars in the past have included Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot.

Rail travel in France is a genuine pleasure – the easy purchase of tickets, securing reservations, enjoying on-time travel,and the high-speed TGV, that whisks you to your destinations.  Local train service, of course, is not high speed, but offers the opportunity for day trips that deliver you right to the center of  destination, whether it be Chartres or Chenonceau. 

Your best source for rail information is on the comprehensive Rail Europe website, where plentiful information mixes with tongue-in-cheek humor to set your travel planning in action.  The site includes rail ‘n drive passes, multi-country passes and more.  An important thing to keep in mind is to plan and purchase your rail tickets, before you arrive in France – much easier on the wallet! 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

Navigating the Paris Metro

Quick and efficient Paris Metro

With only a little glitch here and there, we learned to navigate the Paris transportation system with ease.  Officially the RATP, the system is user friendly and includes the city Metro (subway), buses, tramways and the RER express trains.  A Metro map is essential and is available free of charge at any Metro information booth.

Just pinpoint where you are, where you want to go, and the color of the Metro line that will take you to your destination.  Then, you find the end point of the “blue line”, number 4, for example, that runs from Porte de Cligancourt to Port D’Orleans; and choose the direction that will take you to your destination.  If you’re headed south, you just look for the sign “Direction Port D’Orleans” and once aboard the Metro, the map on the car will show you how many stops before your particular destination.  Sound complicated?  It really isn’t difficult, and it’s an inexpensive and efficient way to make your way around the city.  Oops – headed the wrong way?  Just get off at the next stop, find the correct direction, and get on your way again. 

By the way, you should take the Metro line 6 just to enjoy the sights.  Most Metros run underground, but line 6 runs mostly above ground with some excellent views of the Eiffel Tower.

 Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

A Passion for Cycling in France

 

Cycling by Gironde River vineyards

 

What better time to focus on the love of cycling in France than with the start of the prestigious Tour de France. Interestingly, the Grand Start will begin on July 2nd at the Passage du Gois along the Atlantic Coast – a passage that is flooded by the incoming tide twice a day. 

When you travel along the beautiful country roads throughout France, you will readily notice colorful, geared-up cyclists, often riding with their club mates or in a cycling tour for visitors.  In fact, my daughter and I stayed in a little inn on the Mediterranean in Le Lavandou; where 8 Italian men stayed for a few nights, so they could take daily tours through the Upper Corniche.  Their vans delivered them and their cycles to a new spot each day, making the overall route a bit easier.

Cycling in France is considered quite good; as there is huge respect for cyclists, the roads are good and drivers give lots of distance, when passing.  And there’s all of that lovely countryside!  Take a look on line, and you might find the perfect biking tour for your next holiday.   

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Cycle Through Paris, Lyon, Nantes…

Typical bicycle station in Paris

Want to cycle around cities in France?  An imaginative cycling program allows you to do so, without high rental rates or hauling your own bike from Peoria!

Always serious about environmental concerns, Paris made a significant decision to promote bike-sharing back in July of 2007.  Fashioned after the successful program in Lyon, the Paris Vélib’ (a combo of Velo – bicycle and liberté – freedom) is now the largest in the world. 

Throughout the city, over 1,500 bicycle stations provide over 20,000 three-speed bikes for a €1 day rental ticket.  That allows you to take unlimited 30-minute trips.  Longer trips mean added fees, so you just pick up a bike at one station and turn it in at another to continue your ride.  Since the self-service cycle stations are about every 300 meters, you usually won’t have a problem finding one.  When the program began, streets were re-worked to include specific bicycle lanes; so it’s a wonderful way to see the city, especially on Sunday, when many streets are closed to allow for pedestrian, cycling and rollerblade traffic. 

The rental process is similar in most cities – about as easy as using a parking meter.  You provide credit card info (to be sure you return the bike – alarms sound if you don’t.  Some cards without a specific microchip don’t work, so try another payment option.  The city’s cycle websites provide complete info in 8 languages, so pick up your bike and cycle on!

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Extended Auto Rental in France

Our little Peugeot by the Mediterranean

We enjoyed day trips by train to Chartres and Blois, but we really wanted the freedom to discover little villages, to “take a left” here and let fate do her thing. As we started researching our options, we discovered the perfect plan for us.  Through AutoEurope.com, we took advantage of the Peugeot Buy-Back Plan that offered a factory-new car, unlimited mileage, 24-hour roadside assistance and lease rates guaranteed in US dollars.  We took the train from Paris to Bordeaux, picked up our Peugeot and took off for nearly a month of wandering!   It was fabulous – a brand new, air-conditioned, 4-door compact with plenty of trunk space and a ton of “get up and go!” If you need a car for more than 21 days, AutoEurope is an excellent place to start saving.  The longer you rent, the greater the savings.  All Buy Backs include insurance, and AutoEurope starts you off with exceptional maps and informational travel book.

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