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Place Contrescarpe – Paris Latin Quarter

Members of our delightful “France Fanatics” group on Facebook recently asked me about our favorite Paris vacation apartment rental.  A fellow renter (whom we never have met) had written to compliment my book that she found in staying at the same apartment.  When I posted her lovely comments, others wanted to know the secret of our “Home in Paris”.

We often stay at a lovely vacation rental property in the Latin Quarter.  A charming two-room flat on an ancient pedestrian passageway, our chosen home lies very close to the bustling and always entertaining Place Contrescarpe.

This square remains one of our favorite spots in Paris, a small intersection at the top of rue Mouffetard with a mix of bakeries and grocers (alimentaires), restaurants and ice cream shops.  We park ourselves at a café terrace in the sun to enjoy a morning coffee and croissant and watch the students hustle by, the shopkeepers sweep their walkways and place their pastries just so in the window display.

We love the sensation of being in our own little neighborhood.  Each day, we walk past the same store owners and waiters, the dog-walking lady and the young gentleman taking his daughter to school.

And each afternoon, we see the same elder man sitting in a doorway overlooking Contrescarpe, a bottle of wine at his side and an ongoing ‘story’ he shares with the world “in general”.  He doesn’t expect anyone to engage him in conversation.  He isn’t begging or being a nuisance or any such thing. He simply has staked out his place and set his ‘podium’ from which to say his piece. Perhaps, we shall do the same one day…particularly with a good bottle of wine at hand!

We have enjoyed stays in hotels and, when our apartment is not available, stays in other vacation rentals.  Nothing seems to touch “Our Little Home in Paris” for being our personal sanctuary, as we enjoy our favorite city.

And these few paragraphs barely scratch the surface of one square in one neighborhood in Paris.

Fired Up for France: The Promise of Paris – now available!
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Charming Provençal Vacation Rental

Gard department France

Charming salon in Provence country home

We have enjoyed entirely unique experiences as temporary vacation rental ‘residents’ in Paris and in the Loire Valley.  Whether in the city or country, we appreciate the convenience of having our own kitchen, private bath and spacious living areas as our personal retreat … in between discovering local landscapes, attractions and neighborhoods.  Many rentals today offer comprehensive advantages with phones, Wi-Fi access, upscale electronics and insider tips for the area.  All of those benefits often come at a price that delivers huge value over similarly-priced hotel rooms.

One such rental discovery is “Maison-de-Cerises” in the small village of Saint-Marcel Careiret, located just northwest of Avignon in southern France.  The lovely stone house is very tastefully restored with authentic Provençal charm. Envision, if you will, old terra-cotta tiles, stone and lime-washed walls, appealing living areas and comfortable bedrooms.

The village includes traditional amenities – café, patisserie (almost next door) and alimentaire – and the location is close to major area sites you won’t want to miss – Avignon, La Roque sur Cèze, Uzès, Nîmes and Pont du Gard. Uzès, for example, overflows with exceptional architecture, Italiante Cathedral and towers and spacious Piazzas. Add the market treasures – truffles, garlic, honey and local earthenware – and you will understand the attraction.

Saint-Marcel de Careiret , France

Join us on the terrace for wine?

As to the delightful house, two full bedrooms and baths, a completely equipped kitchen, washing machine and a living area will inspire you to create the same charm in your own home! The large ground-floor bedroom opens onto a lovely garden with a very large cherry tree – thus “Maison des Cerises”! French doors from the living area also open onto that enchanting garden scene.

We look forward to a stay with lots of sojourns to outlying areas and serene garden-style dining with our friends. For about 100 to 120 Euros per night, you will understand our appreciation for the value of vacation rentals.

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Travel Pleasures – Loire Valley

Loire Valley

The Pontlevoy Abbey

Believe it or not, the weather in Florida today has sent us to the closet for sweaters and jackets; but there’s nothing like warm memories to take the chill from a winter day.

A few years back, we were tucked away in a vacation rental near Amboise, when we decided to visit Pontlevoy.  itDuring a visit from Parisian friends, we had trekked up the hill in Amboise to visit Clos de Lucé. We visited the fabulous Chambord Château,  wandered the streets of Blois, relished the Amboise open-air market and picnicked by the Loire.

One day we piled into the Peugeot and headed for Pontlevoy.  A family member recommended we visit The Abbey, where Americans had founded a Study Abroad Program.

As it turns out, that prior relationship earned us a neighborly welcome with a friendly tour of the grounds and building, use of the school’s Wi-Fi (not easy to come by in those traveling days) and a generous invitation to feel at home and to return again.

The roots of the Abbey and the town of Pontlevoy spread through the centuries from its founding in 1034, through its destruction during the Hundred Years’ War, rebuilding and transformation to a seminary for the sons of wealthy bourgeoisie and later to a royal military academy.

Pontlevoy Abbey

Louis’ cedar tree

The huge cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard was planted in honor of Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in the late 18th century. While the history is fascinating, on this day and on another that followed; our idle visits felt like trips to the oasis for a respite from the glaring sun.

After our tour, we sat beneath Louis’ tree, simply taking in the peace of our surroundings. Our friend’s dog, Sam, was quite content, as we heard the sweet sounds of a student violinist drift through the courtyard.

Just across Rue Colonel Filloux, we sat beneath plane trees to enjoy lunch at Café Commerce, the name as straightforward as the menu, the service as hospitable as friend’s.  Next to us, a local gazed over the Abbey and enjoyed his Kronenbourg.

Loire Valley France

A Kronenburg in the shade

We still wrap all of those experiences around us like a favorite old coat in the heart of winter. The Abbey, the tree, the friendship and convivial meal and the sight of a gentleman enjoying his cold beer on a warm day were as grand as a royal procession at Versailles.
Joie

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Mastering Space, Saving Energy in Paris

The mirror expands the space in “My Little Home in Paris”

Anyone who has stayed in a tiny Parisian hotel room or dined at a 16-seat cafe understands the lack of available space in this spectacular capital city.  Every inch of space is important – the little entry alcove, the corner at the curve of the stairs, the stairwell itself.

Perhaps a comparison to American spaces will provide perspective.  A one-bedroom apartment in the United States  often includes 600 to 800 square feet – huge by Paris standards, where that space would equate to a 3- or 4-room apartment.

Our friends in Paris bought a studio for a small vacation rental – small being the operative word here!  At 21 square meters (225 square feet), “My Little Home in Paris” has a very comfortable, full-size bathroom with tub, a small kitchen and a little study, or half-room that serves as wardrobe, office or sleep space for the one with the short straw (futon for the night)!  How in the world do they do it, especially given the ancient building with a lovely little fireplace that can’t be removed?

Let’s start with the kitchen, where a high-tech water/radiator heater was installed behind the faux wall above the sink – quite the space saver.  The gas heater keeps a small reservoir of heated water, programmable to use energy when it’s the cheapest.  As soon as hot water is used, it is replenished with the heater’s quick recovery system.  A two-burner gas stovetop and microwave handle almost any cooking needs, save a Thanksgiving turkey.  Curtained shelves hold everything else from pans and teapots to coffee makers and spices.

Water heater above the sink

A comfortable sofa bed is the key to space savings in the living room, as is a small, round drop leaf table in front of the bright window. A lovely old mirror above the fireplace adds elegance, visual depth and light, and – voila – the small, flat-screen TV on the wall delivers CNN and France 24 without prejudice!  (Oh my – I just noticed I keep using the words “small” and “little” – can’t be avoided on this topic!)

In the half room, a desk under the window offers free computer and wifi connections and free internet phone.  Bookshelves above hold every imaginable tour book, museum guide and restaurant menus.  A large cupboard has plenty of space for hanging and folded clothes and supplies.

That’s just one example of the clever use of space in a small Paris apartment.  Older apartments with soaring ceilings make use of a sleeping loft to remove the bed from the main living areas.  Circular stairwells are also popular, as are some unusual appliance combinations to cater to “western” notions of comfort – combination stove/dishwasher or clothes washer set beneath your bathroom sink. One studio apartment cleverly disguised the kitchen behind lovely armoire doors that covered a generous space set in the end wall of the living room. You name it – the French have thought of ways to be comfortable without excess space.

Favorite Cafe, Ile Saint-Louis

Favorite Cafe, Ile Saint-Louis

Tiny cafes also demonstrate resourcefulness.  Along rue Mouffetard, a tarte salon welcomes some 9 or 10 customers at a time, while others walking along the street order their quiche to go.  The fact that the fresh tartes sit in an enticing window display probably doubles their daily sales.  Dine inside, and you’ll see how deftly your server assembles your order.  She cuts your chosen tarte from the window display to take to the draped kitchen in the back – one that looked to be the size of a large closet.  She returns the warmed quiche to the front, adds salad and your drink from a small refrigerator next to the window.  Dirty dishes go back to the kitchen, where it sounds like they might be immediately washed by hand for future customers.

A similarly small cafe on elegant Ile Saint-Louis handled service in much the same way, but with one important distinction.  They had the benefit of a dumbwaiter that would silently carry steaming tagliatelle and crisp galettes upward to customers, while whisking away dirty dishes to the cavern below.

In a city that continues to thrive in the face of growing populations, Paris demonstrates an uncanny appreciation for space and energy.  Schools double as voting sites.  Little autos, such as Smart cars, outnumber larger vehicles, and the city Velib system makes bike-riding popular.  Building entries have timed lighting for you to activate to avoid energy drain, and you can choose your drying cycles in the Laundromat to run in 10-minute segments.

In the United States, the economic downturn has brought about changes in thinking about spending and living.  We have been enamored with big spaces and special-occasion rooms, with large cars and more appliances than we know how to conquer.  Perhaps, we should look to Paris for inspiration.

 

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Enjoying the Bordeaux Countryside

Our sun-filled room in Montlieu la Garde

Voila!  Off we went on the adventure of a lifetime beginning with our comfortable ride on the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux.  As novices in dashing about France, we had taken a precautionary step and booked a couple of nights in a gite near Bordeaux.

This was one of those times, when our different map scales threw us off.   Montlieu la Garde – home to our reserved gite – looked quite close to Bordeaux – see there on the map how close?  Not so.  As we headed north from Bordeaux, we found our gite to be some 40 miles – certainly not “around the corner” within easy reach of dining or shopping.  C’est la vie.  Being so-called displaced or misplaced in France just offers more charming surprises!

We had such a pleasant couple of nights with our host and his two guests.  We enjoyed this first experience in a privately-owned bed and breakfast, where Pascal Menanteau … and his cows … provided a warm and welcome experience.  Fellow house guests Estelle and Jean Claude gathered with us and our host in the shaded front yard for an apéritif, before scurrying off for dinner in a little commune called Podensac.

French countryside

Bordeaux countryside gite

Pascal told us the Chez la Mère Catherine had limited hours, and there were few dining options out in the country.  This offered another occasion for my limited French to get us by, as English certainly wasn’t the language of the local restaurant.  But that’s part of the adventure – to take your restricted vocabulary and stretch it, to ‘walk around’ a phrase, when you aren’t certain exactly how to express something.  We rarely encountered anything other than appreciation for our efforts to communicate in their native language.

In the morning we lingered over coffee, fresh breads and homemade confitures, feeling as if we were in the company of friends.  Pascal gave us a tour of his delightful ‘farmhouse’ kitchen, where vegetables steamed in a large copper pot.  Before heading out on another impromptu discovery tour; we visited with the cows, who were enjoying their own hearty breakfast.  As much as we love city life in France, the memorable experiences of the countryside remain firmly tucked into our rich bank of recollections.
We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

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

Autographed copies with notecard gift

 

Pagnol’s Canal du Midi

Languedoc Chateau, France

The Château Ventenac overlooks the Canal du Midi

The first filmmaker to be elected to the Académie Française, Marcel Pagnol wrote a series of four autobiographical books. The second, Le Château de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle) was made into an entrancing movie. If you haven’t seen it, by all means take the opportunity to search out this cinematic treat, as well as the other three!

I most remember scenes of Pagnol’s family threading their way along the Canal du Midi with the assistance of groundskeepers and caretakers, who unlocked their property’s gates. Throughout the world there are more and more “green spaces”, trails and bicycle paths that entice the nature lover and exercise devotee. I would choose to linger along the Canal du Midi, to trace Pagnol’s path and see the chateaus poised above the canal.

As fortune would have it, there is an elegant castle, where groups and families can steal away for a retreat. The Château Ventenac borders the Canal and is right next door to the 13th-century church of Ventenac-en-Minervois in the Languedoc region of southern France.

Drive along the narrow D26 past miles and miles of carefully-tended vineyards, and suddenly you round a corner and – voila! The canal, the village, the Château and the little ancient bridge come into view. The six-bedroom gîte is beautifully appointed, with gardens and terraces overlooking the canal, an ideal setting for a self-catered getaway for you and your friends or family.

The little village has the necessities of life … like croissants from the boulangerie and wine from the Château de Ventenac Wine Cave, now a co-opérative that makes and sells wines using grapes from the same vineyards you pass on your way into the village. A couple of times a week, mobile market vans visit the village to sell fresh local produce. There’s even a chicken van, and the Mairie announces the van arrivals over a loudspeaker system –village culture at its best!

Chateau, CAnal du Midi, France

Breakfast on the terrace?

But, here is my favorite part. On the Château grounds, there is a lower gateway that provides access to the Canal du Midi. The gate is locked with a padlock – a la the Pagnol story – but the code is kept in the kitchen. You can slip through the gate and meander for miles along the tree-lined Canal.   Merveilleux!

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

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

Autographed copies with notecard gift

 

Embrace France in Travel!

Chinaillon France

Alpine hills around Chinaillon, France

“Travel is addicting. It can make you a happier American, as well as a citizen of the world….
It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life.”  
Rick Steves

In the one thought leads to another vein, I was reading about the resurrection of a ski resort in Kosovo, when the images of skiing in Canada and visiting the Alpine village of Chinaillon edged their way from my memory bank. Beyond my introduction to and enjoyment of French culture in Quebec, I relished those swift runs and dazzling vistas of the Laurentian Mountains – snow-capped peaks, chipmunks dashing across the frosty landscape, birch trees tucked among narrow trails – adventures I’m so glad to have enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I never skied in France, but we enjoyed several days of wandering through ski country in the summer. Anchored at a charming gîte in Chinaillon, we explored the gorgeous Alpine landscape from Annecy to Mont Blanc and many points in between.

Ski France

Le Grand Bornand – ski or hike the French Alps!

We could step through our door to the parking area to be greeted by roosters prancing about, while hikers with their staffs made their weigh up the bouldered hill behind us. As far as the eye could see, lush carpets of green spread over the hills and peaks – the domicile in summer of grazing sheep and cows.

We gained the understanding that knowing cowbells can ring through the hills (so the farmer can find the fellas) is worlds apart from standing at a remote ‘pullover’ in the mountains and hearing it yourself. The experience adds color to an otherwise black-and-white image.

I’d still love to ski in the Alps, but I’d also welcome new opportunities to meander through the stunning landscape on a sunny, summer day. One village after another offers floral shows beyond imagination. Icy streams race down the mountains. Quiet cafes offer some of the world’s finest views and a friendly conversation with locals. The sum total is simply exquisite!

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

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

Autographed copies with notecard gift

Exploring Magnificent Paris

the charm of Paris France

Joie de vivre, Place Contrescarpe, Paris!

Nearly twenty years ago, I enjoyed my first trip to Paris and other parts of France. Love at first sight!  It’s that simple.  

Naturally sharing that beauty with my children was my burning desire.  I even went so far as to concoct a “when I die” scenario that would have them carry my ashes to Paris and casually anoint my favorite places – by the Seine and on Ile Saint-Louis, in the Jardin des Plantes and by the Eiffel Tower.  I’m sure they would have enjoyed following my directives!

Fortunately I remain on this earth, if for no other reason than to spread the wonder of Paris and her environs. I did just that in my book – Fired Up for France: The Promise of Paris,  written in the hope that others would make their dreams of Paris happen.  I also have managed to introduce my favorite city to my daughter and am still working on my son.  How can you not want to share the most magnificent sights of your life with your precious children?

Paris Tour Eiffel

Nothing like your first view of the Eiffel Tower

My daughter and I set out on our adventure in March of 2000 – imagine the wonder of a brand new century in the City of Light. We filled our time with my very special friend in Paris, our hostess/tour guide/partner in laughter and crime.  We reveled in the sights, sounds and smells along rue Mouffetard; where the flowers, vegetables, cheeses and chocolates represented every color of the rainbow.  Just after Christmas this year, she served me wine in the glass that was given to her at L’Ecluse wine bar – boatloads of laughter and joie de vivre was ours that evening!

During our too-short trip, I cherished seeing Paris through her eyes – the astounding Eiffel Tower, the Ferris wheel along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, lunch at my favorite crêperie and dinner at Le Soufflé, charming boutiques and museums. You who have enjoyed the feast of Paris understand only too well that memorable sights greet you around each and every corner.  Even getting drenched in a sudden rain storm after our bateau ride on the Seine was a memory to tuck away.

If you are doing the “should-I-or-shouldn’t-I” dance in planning for your next trip to Paris, might I be so bold to suggest you get on with it? Others might counsel you to “smell the flowers along the way”.  I add “… in Paris” to that recommendation.

I also can offer a suggestion for a charming, comfortable and hospitable vacation rental right in the heart of the Latin Quarter – our very favorite place in Paris to stay. If you take the time to read some of the guest comments, you will readily understand the warm welcome and ultra-convenient furnishings that await you.

Stop dreaming and start traveling, my friends!
We’d love to hear from you!

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

Take a peek! … a few charming French gifts!

Please take a moment to browse through … and, if you please, order … my book:

Autographed copies with notecard gift

Loire Valley Gifts and Gardens

Amboise France

The Loire – lazy in August

A few years back, we traveled throughout France during an entire summer. Heaven! After a lengthy stay in Paris; we took the TGV, collected our ‘home’ for the next two months and headed off in our trusty Peugeot. Adventure was ours for the finding … and taking.

Now and then, our rhythm slipped a bit. We either didn’t stay long enough in one place, or we overstayed (or so we thought) in other areas. Due to a mix-up in vacation rentals, we ended up staying an entire two weeks in the Loire Valley. What are we missing, we wondered? And we came to discover, we missed nothing. Rather, we enjoyed the gift of settling in with plenty of time to wander and wonder at all of the beauty and charm of this “garden of France”.

Loire Valley France

Amboise market

The enormous Amboise market became a must for us. Tucked along the Loire River, the market teems with people and goods every Friday and Sunday. Huge pans of paella scent the air. Vivid flowers line colorful Provençal trays covered with acrylic to encase and preserve their beauty. Vendors offer gorgeous chunks of cheese of every taste and texture, while just next to them a large rotisserie roasts chickens to perfection and braises the potatoes that capture their succulent juices at the bottom.

Flowers. Fresh white asparagus. Berries galore. Artisan breads.  And the quiet hum of Amboise and neighboring residents. We gathered indelible memories along with all of those offerings.

French markets

Amboise flowers

One day we wandered over to Vouvray, where we bought namesake wine and savored lunch overlooking the river. And one enchanted evening Bléré became our destination; where chapels date to the 13th century, and outdoor cafes line the church square. Ironically, we ran into a young man we had met a few days before in another small village – Pontlevoy – underscoring that perpetual truism – it’s a small world after all.

Beyond excursions to villages and chateaux, we seemed to discover new spaces and places each day. Down a lane behind our little house; gardens lined the road, and donkeys milled about a field. Overhead, age-old trees bent beneath the river breeze offering a whispered sound that wrought images of naps in hammocks strung between the chestnut trunks.

Amboise Loire RiverOne exceptional August night, we took to the riverbank for a picnic supper of market-fresh delights . The water in this low season was quiet, slipping by and turning golden in the setting sun. Perhaps that evening cemented our knowledge that so called wrong turns happen for a reason, when you set aside expectations and embrace the moment. One could fare much worse than enjoying a two-week stay in the middle of some of the most beautiful landscapes and chateaux of France.

Amboise France

Loire pique-nique!

 

We’d love to hear from you

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

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Bonne Saint-Valentin!

French Alps skiing

Our summer lodging at L’Isalou in Chinaillon

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Today I remember romantic ‘getaways’ in France … a night at the Opera Garnier, many walks along the Seine, a fabulous performance and dinner in Aix-en-Provence – many lovely memories with my husband in France.

When we were in Le Chinaillon Vieux Village in the French Alps, summer swept over the land. The pace of life was easy, and hillsides were taken up with occasional hikers and, of course, cows in the upland pastures. A ski lift operated here and there to give you a sweeping view of the land, and the village offered an easy pace and plenty of room for dining under a summer sky.

We know the entire area bustles now with avid skiers, non-stop lifts and fondue pots bubbling through the evening. Mulled wine by the fireplace. Tired limbs and rosy cheeks. The ski season is a much faster, though exhilarating, pace.

Today, we won’t be on the snow-packed ridges of the Alps. Perhaps, we will take in a lovely breakfast at Gourmet Croissant in Florida, where we live…. or a lazy drive to the beach.

Le Grand Bornand

L’isalou in snow!

 

Bonne Saint-Valentin à mon chéri!

The Whimsy and Wonder of Montmartre

Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, home to the iconic La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, but also the guardian of whimsical art, spectacular cityscape views and delightful scenes around each corner.

We enjoyed  a month-long stay in a vacation rental at the foot of the Basilique.  We seemed to wander every lane, every endless set up steps that wind their way up to the appealing summit.  We never tired of finding our ideal, shaded spot on the Basilica’s sprawling lawn, where we could watch the visiting throngs of tourists and residents along the magnificent steps that spill down the hill.  Musicians play Mozart’s “Air”.  Living statues appear frozen in place, dressed as a jester, a sphinx or the Statue of Liberty.  Though some exacting visitors would find the scene hectic, we enjoyed the lively mix of magnificent views and lively people.

The Place du Tertre is the bustling center at the top – yes, overrun often with  tourists, but nonetheless another traditional “must see”, where artists gather to demonstrate their skill and sell their creations.  We simply don’t accept the notion that the popularity (or notoriety, as the case might be) of a place makes it off limits, too mundane to bother with.  In 20-degree weather, we have visited the square to enjoy a steaming bowl of onion soup, while watching over the chilled artists.

Chilled artists on Place du Tertre


With our extended stay on Montmartre, we came to recognize the everyday humanity that is part of the fabric of any renowned attraction, the people who populated our ‘village’.  The baker who greets each morning with the delightful aroma of fresh baked breads and a welcoming line of customers at the door.  The many fabric storekeepers, who ready their displays in hopes of a prosperous day of business – even the sad old man, who sits on the bench with his half-empty bottle of wine.  It is just another side of Paris that we relish.

Fired Up for France: The Promise of Paris – now available!
Autographed copies with notecard gift (through PayPal)
Amazon direct order

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

 

Île Saint-Louis “Second Homes”

Paris mansions

Private mansion at the tip of Ile Saint-Louis

Last time we were in Paris, we stayed for a week in a charming vacation rental on Île Saint-Louis.  Other than the sometimes grueling climb up four flights of stairs, we were absolutely enchanted to enjoy our residence on one of our favorite places on earth!

BUT that is also when we first heard from our best friend in Paris that, “The island has changed.  So many foreigners have bought property here, and it no longer feels authentic.”  Well, I’m sure I’ve paraphrased somewhat, but the key thought remains the same – the long famous and revered Île Saint-Louis doesn’t feel so French anymore.  I hasten to add that we do not share that sentiment, perhaps because we are blinded by the island’s charms!

Mind you, if we had the ‘spare change’ to buy property on l’île, we would jump at the chance; but we also would spend lots of time there.  Recent studies show that many foreigners, including Americans, have gradually driven out less well-off Parisian residents; and the second-home nature of their ownership and brevity of visits has had a negative impact on neighborhood shops and local schools.  Authors of the study indicate that this district is the only one in Paris that is losing inhabitants.  Given the French love of heritage, home and history; you can imagine how this ownership transfer has been received.

Those tensions resulted in quite a clash between historic and new residents, between architectural designers and cultural protectors.  A Qatari prince purchased one of the island’s most beautiful, historic and revered buildings – Hotel Lambert.  Once home to Chopin and Voltaire not to mention the Rothschild family, the 17th century mansion contains many artistic treasures, including priceless frescoes by artist Eustache Le Sueur created around 1652.

Paris vacation rentals

Our vacation home on Ile Saint-Louis

As if the drastic structural changes anticipated by the prince were not enough, a significant fire broke out in 2013 and caused the rooftop to collapse and destroy the Le Sueur designs.  Part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the building was empty and undergoing the controversial renovations. Nonetheless legal actions still are underway to assure that changes to the famous building are in line with historical dictates.  One heritage architect specialist went so far as to describe the proposed changes as “a monstrosity with the aesthetics of a James Bond villa”.  Parfait!

The hotel was originally designed and built for the personal secretary – Lambert de Thorigny – of King Louis XIII.  Voltaire was said to have courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the Hôtel Lambert; and prior to being sold in 1975 to the Rothschild banking family, noteworthy visitors included Chopin and Balzac.

Perhaps on a more positive note, it seems that many of those owners of second homes in Paris want to blend in, opting for traditions like visiting the local boulanger for bread and La Presse for the daily newspaper.  It is, in fact, that village feeling that so many of us seek, when we arrange our vacation rentals in the City of Light.

If you have always opted for hotel stays in Paris, we highly recommend the more authentic and cost-effective vacation rental.  You still may eat out as often as you wish, but that morning cup of coffee in your own apartment is quite nice!

Fired Up for France: The Promise of Paris – now available!
Autographed copies with notecard gift (through PayPal)
Amazon direct order

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com Copyright © 2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

LuxeEuro – Pure Luxury, Pure France

French Luxury - LuxeEuro

Discover Somerset Maugham’s villa..

Today we introduce another of our sites – “LuxeEuro” – where the emphasis is on “Pure Luxury, Pure France”.  No, we haven’t lost our down-to-earth love of simple pleasures, but France and luxury are synonymous.

We enjoy placing the proverbial spotlight on finely hand-crafted products, extraordinary hotels and chateaux and the crowning jewel of all French luxury – superb cuisine.  And of course, we will include other places, products and points of interest that will appeal to Francophiles.

Along the way, we cover ‘Grande Dames’ of fashion like Hermès and Façonnable, while also introducing contemporary artisans like Le Prince du Sud and CERRI’Art of Paris.

We travel from the exceptional boutique luxury hotel – Villa Mauresque – on the French Riviera to Alpine retreats and fabulous river cruises through France. 

Bordeaux and Saint Emilion

Beau Sejour  near Bordeaux

And we explore some of the most inviting and appealing restaurants and brasseries in France, introducing exotic and traditional cuisines, regional favorites and the kaleidoscope of wines and Champagnes for which France is famous. 

We hope you will come along for the ride and tell your friends to join us too.   And, as always we encourage you to offer your comments and recommendations.  Merci et bienvenue a LuxeEuro!

 

Avignon France

The elegant Hotel d’Europe – Avignon

 

Escape To Haute-Savoie

Haute-Savoie France

Flowers, villages, cool Alpine air

Sometimes we are so fickle in cherry-picking our favorite memories and places or in evaluating what we might have done differently in traveling through France. Annecy is just one example of an incredibly charming lakeside city, in which we wish we had spent more time…like settling in for a week of exploring the Alpine countryside.

C’est la vie – after a day and a night, we sought out the local office of the Gîtes de France for help in reserving a room in the area. If you are not familiar with the organization, the Gîtes de France developed the first European network of ‘homestay’ accommodations and celebrated 50 years of service in 2005. They focus on rural areas and promote hospitable and comfortable tourist stays. Their latest count of offerings was 43,000 French homesteads that open their unique homes to welcome tourists.

French Alps

Chinaillon – small & welcoming

The GDF helped us to reserve a charming room in the little village of Chinaillon, just up the road … or mountain from Annecy. Though we vowed to return to that gorgeous city, the Alpine countryside began to weave its’ spell around us.

A couple of roosters welcomed us in our ‘car park’, and a few hikers passed by on trails up the hillside looming behind our gîte. The owners – Isabelle and Jean Louis – were very pleasant, and each morning we joined with other guests (5 or 6) for a nice breakfast, before taking to the local roads to explore.

Over a three-day period, we simply wandered … along winding roads that rose to offer spectacular, flower-framed views, before dropping down into one charming village after another … through artisan hamlets and chapel-centered bourgs… over to the Mont Blanc tunnel, where we emerged in Aosta, Italy and wound our way back to our little village for a warm café meal.

France Haute-Savoie

Simple drives in the Alps

When you plan your adventures in France, we heartily recommend you stay a bit in the Haute-Savoie region. For all of the other benefits, surely the Savoyard cuisine and famous regional Reblochon cheese will reward your decision for all time!

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Sunday Morning Near Bordeaux

galard 2Today, I enjoy remembering the quiet in the countryside near Bordeaux.  Gite guests gathered for coffee, fresh breads and jams.  The cows moved slowly about the surrounding fields.  Down the lane, expansive fields of bright yellow sunflowers spread their cheers.

Another day in France awaited, and we were ready!

 

 

Peaceful morning near Bordeaux

Peaceful morning near Bordeaux

Five-Star Camping in France?

Provence 5-star camping France

Five pools for the pleasure of Esterel campers!

We are big fans and avid viewers each July of the Tour de France, and you can’t possibly watch the dynamic race without noticing literally thousands of campers lining each day’s route.  Whether through mountain passes, lowland flats or Provençal hills; vacationing campers choose their ideal spot to catch this annual glimpse of intense cycling competition.

As we drove through France, in every area – particularly in the summer – we noticed the same thing – scores of campers and mobile-style homes on the road or lining the beaches, seemingly tucked away each evening in hillside campgrounds.  About that, we really didn’t know.  Camping simply wasn’t on our radar, perhaps the privileged snobbery of aging bodies opting for more comfortable accommodations.

Camping 5-star in France

Dining poolside, Esterel in Provence

We did meet a lovely young couple, who were dining right next to us in Greoux les Bains.  Turns out they and their children were staying in a nearby campground, and I suppose that was our only ‘up-close’ touch with French camping, except to note that this option is quite popular among French people on holiday.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I came across a five-star camping compound!  In June 2011, Esterel Caravaning  was designated the first 5-star camp site on the French Riviera.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Clearly this was not some tent-scape or 20 x 20 lot in the middle of scrub pines! 

First and foremost is their lovely setting in the rocky red coastal region – the Esterel – between Cannes and Saint Tropez.  Just 3 kilometers from the beach at Agay-Saint Raphael, Esterel Caravaning truly does offer the penultimate deluxe camping experience.  Guests enjoy expansive recreation facilities, restaurant dining, on-site grocery and souvenir shopping, elaborate swimming pool (excuse me – make that 5 pools!) and even horseback-riding facilities. 

With touring ‘pitches’ for those with their own camping homes and a well-appointed and varied offering of motor and mobile homes; the camp grounds deliver the beauty of the pine-forested Provence region with well-above-average camping accommodations – air conditioning, dishwasher and television, new-this-year free Wi-Fi, pleasant patios and porches and, in select units, private Jacuzzis!

Hmmm.  My mind travels back to pitching a tent on a boulder in the rain, limited cooking inside of dripping canvas, hikes up rocky paths.  Along the way, I’ve even experienced the motor home getaway, a more comfortable environment with its unique, stop-by-the-side-of-the-road cup of coffee features.  I will have to admit that we still prefer to commune with nature and return to our hotel or B & B, or find a delightful vacation rental in which to ‘burrow’.

Esterel Caravaning, though, seems to paint a whole new canvas for outdoor lovers and those in search of comfort, beauty and assuredly not the final bill one might receive on checking out of a 5-star hotel on the French Riviera!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Places to Stay in Monpazier

Photos of Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1er, Monpazier
This photo of Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1er is courtesy of TripAdvisor

For a relatively tiny community of less than 1,000 people, Monpazier in the Dordogne area of southwest France offers some excellent lodging options.  Fittingly named Hotel Edward 1st , the hotel combines friendly hospitality with 12 varied accommodations in a lovely turreted, 19th century building at the edge and within easy walking distance of the entire charming village.  Two hotel restaurants easily serve the needs of guests, and the village itself offers a number of bistros and café choices, all within the “embrace” of the walled Bastide town.

Dordogne Bastide

Villa Sainte-Therese, Monpazier

The gorgeous rolling countryside surrounds the village, and therein we discover another exceptional lodging choice, perhaps for that family retreat.  Set on 4 acres, this Dordogne “farmhouse” – Villa Sainte-Therese –  sleeps 8 to 10 and offers all of the comforts one would expect of a nice vacation rental – spacious rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, gorgeous views and lovely terraces for enjoying the morning sun or evening sunset.

We stayed in a nice little hotel in the village of Saint-Gervais-d’Auvergne to the northeast of Monpazier, but the Bastide is definitely on our must-do list for our next travel adventure in France!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Unspoiled Retreat in the Pyrenees

Ariege France in the Pyrenees

Gallo Roman sites of Saint-Lizier

After the buzz and bustle of the city – whether Paris or Lyon, Marseille or Nice – consider a visit to one of France’s most unspoiled regions.  Imagine the majestic Pyrenees dissected by rushing rivers and overlaid with valley upon valley.  Next to Andorra, the Department of Ariège hugs the central Pyrenees, where every imaginable outdoor recreation is available – kayaking, cycling and hiking along parts of the ancient pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Now you can take in the extraordinary views enjoyed through the centuries by Gallo-Romans and bishops at the beautifully-renovated Domaine du Palais.  A virtual ‘sea of mountains’ is your backdrop for dining on the terrace, and the 3-star apartments combine comfort and hospitality with authentic preservation of the remarkable palais.

Ariege France

Terrace views over the Pyrenees

If you are drawn to magnificent Gallo-Roman sites, the citadel of Saint-Lizier is a fountainhead of monuments – the ramparts, the 11th-century cathedral with Romanesque paintings and the 14th-century gallery of the cloister.  One of the many treasures of the Bishops of Saint Lizier is the collection of gold and silverwork dating back to the Renaissance.  As one of the renowned stops along the pilgrimage route to Spain, Saint Lizier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Prehistoric caves, Cathar chateaux and escape routes used during World War II bear out that Ariège has long been a place of refuge and resistance.  With the help of locals, over 33,000 French and 6,000 servicemen fled from the Germans along secret escape trails that brought them safely across the border.  Apparently Franco ‘turned his head’, as members of the French resistance and downed Allied airmen escaped to Spain.

Arieche France

Neighboring Saint-Girons

Beyond the spectacular natural setting and fascinating historic routes, the innate charm of the region is captivating – narrow lanes flanked by ancient stone walls, promenades along shaded river banks, picturesque streets and plenty of wide open green land.   Colorful local markets draw the mountain folk to area villages to sell their livestock and re-supply their pantries.

Is it any wonder that the Tour de France always makes annual treks through this astounding region?

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

An Invitation to Classic Good Taste

Normandy France

“My French Country Home” in Normandy

When you find a treasure that nurtures little moments in your days, you should share it with others.  So, we introduce a serene blog, one with classic taste and subtlety, one that shares passions for nature and … antiques!  Some of us wander through life without clear ideas about ‘what we really want’, much less develop plans for achieving our goals.

Take the time to read My French Country Home, and you will discover a family with the good fortune to have realized and nurtured their dreams from an appealing country home in Normandy.  The site includes many treats – pleasant anecdotes about life in the country, interesting Brocante Tours, lovely details about their verdant gardens and a profile of their charming rental cottage.

From the Vallée de l’Eure, they have lived their idyllic life, raised four children and immersed themselves in the activities they love.  And that humble satisfaction shines through their photos, their décor, their gardens and day-to-day blog posts.

On a more practical ‘it’s-all-about-me’ note, you have to love someone so enticed by brocantes!   Someone who understands how a simple brocante treasure can warm the corner of a room or enhance the taste of breakfast served on colorful antique pottery.

brocantes in France

Brocante tambourine painting

Don’t take our word for the ambience of My French Country Home.  See for yourself, and who knows?  You may well spend a week in their cottage in Normandy and discover the path to your own dreams.

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

Find Ideal Hotels in France!

Le Mazet dining atmosphere - magnifique!

Le Mazet dining atmosphere – magnifique!

I have long been a fan of the Relais & Chateaux collection of luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants, but I discovered another excellent resource for outstanding hotels. The variety of themes, locations and pricing options help to ease your selection process.

Actually, an article on France 24 pointed my way toward a new coffee table-style guidebook – CHC Signatures – that profiles 81 privately-owned properties that make up the Chateaux & Hotels Collection owned by the Alain Ducasse Group. Naturally the book simply whets your appetite for several themes of lodging, from culinary and ‘well-being’ to nature and urban. And in an interesting twist, each category in the book is ‘introduced’ by highly-successful business women who share their travel visions and advice.

Alain Ducasse describes the unique collection as embodying the distinct signatures of “…‘the ‘artisans-hôteliers’ that brought them to life.” The elegant book will be sold at each of the 81 featured establishments or on the website – Chateauxhotels.com.

Chateau du Martinet, near Avignon France, Provence

Elegant Chateau du Martinet near Avignon

Beyond the newly-published book, the website offers an excellent variety of lodging in the collection – from 3-star comfort to private residence-style grandeur. I think you will find their offerings diverse enough to fit all interests and holiday budgets. A couple of listings underscore the attraction and diversity of accommodations.

Set within easy reach of a charming chain of Provence villages, Les Mazets des Roches hotel combines attractive and appealing decors with a lovely garden and poolside setting. The restaurant overlooks century-old pines and soothing garden sights. Rates run from an ever-so-reasonable 69-Euro rate, and half board rates also are available. The hotel has an extended closure from mid-October to early April.

Further up the pecking order and pricing ladder is the refined CHÂTEAU DU MARTINET, former home to the Marquises of Isnards. The entire property offers the feel of a private manor house, where you discover a perfect mix of classic architecture, modern amenities and genuine comfort.

While plenty of on-site amenities entertain – swimming, tennis, bowling and botanical fitness trails, guests are within easy reach of Avignon, Mont Ventoux and Luberon. Imagine curling up in the library for a good reading session, or enjoying a long and lazy meal in the historic dining room with soaring, sculpted ceilings. Rates begin at 190 Euros for the expansive 18-th-century chateau experience and warm hospitality. The hotel’s limited closure extends from January 1 through March 31.

The Ducasse collection will be high on our list of resources for planning the next French ‘getaway’!

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

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

Hints – Vacation Rentals in Paris

Vacation rentals in Paris France vrbo.com

Our comfortable “little home in Paris”

Unless your Uncle Olivier owns a flat in Paris, I would suggest you go to tried and true resources to track down the ideal vacation rental for you.  In the ‘wish I had thought of that’ realm, HomeAway has become the runaway database master for private owner rental listings.  Their 150,000+ listings cover a portfolio of websites that include Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com), Vacation Rentals and a variety of HomeAway sites tailored to specific countries.  With 60,000 listings, Perfect Places also serves as an alternative source.

Review the sites to discover a variety of filters to narrow your search.  Determine your ‘must haves’ in advance – wi-fi, elevator, bathtub, air conditioning (good luck on that one – still somewhat of a rarity, though available here and there).  You can select the number of beds or rooms, preferred arrondissement, pets allowed and more.

We have found available information to be complete and even were able to contact owners direct with any questions about rate adjustments.  Several photos offer insight into the décor and floor plans of apartments, and comprehensive guest reviews indicate strengths and weaknesses visitors found.

HomeAway even offers “The Carefree Rental Guarantee” with monetary protection against double bookings, misrepresentations and the like.  Advantages of the on-line rental programs include exposure to a wide variety of properties, safe and secure bookings and, naturally, the overall convenience of seeing properties you might not otherwise discover.

Apartment rental on Ile Saint-Louis, Paris

Île Saint-Louis apartment rental, Paris

Our experience with Paris vacation rentals runs the gamut with generally very positive results.  Our favorite is in the 5th Arrondissement – My Little Home in Paris – with a quiet courtyard location, full bathroom, all of the electronics one could hope for and an entirely engaging owner/couple.  Our rental on Île Saint-Louis was a treasured experience, sans the personable touch of the first.  The apartment was beautifully located, well equipped and decorated with charm.  The only drawback was the lack of elevator and the five-story climb – a bit tiring, as we reached the 4th!

On Montmartre, our apartment was downright elegant with a ‘drawing room’ atmosphere and every gadget and dish one could imagine; but the location was far from quiet, as one could imagine in this tourist-heavy location.  Finally, we stayed a few nights in a very small, though clean and comfortable flat that served as a ‘crash pad’, as there simply wasn’t enough room to settle in and enjoy the surroundings.

Search for the place that best meets your own personal needs.  If you are constantly on the go, size is less important.  If you want leisurely evenings at home and breakfast in the morning, you will want more space and a workable kitchen.  We can 100% vouch for the pleasure of staying in vacation rentals that offer you a touch of residential feeling in one of the world’s most enchanting cities.  Bonne Chance!

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2019, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

Find an Apartment in Paris

Montmartre apartment in Paris

Comfort, exquisite curtains, light – our apartment in Paris

We arrived in Paris with the intent of staying a week, then taking ‘flight’ to discover the country. Change of plans. We couldn’t bear to spend so little time with our friends. We wanted more, more, more of our City of Light.

We were ‘covered’ for that first week with stays in 3 different apartments of friends, and that gave us some insight about our preferences. The first and second apartments were in nicely secluded little passageways. BUT. One was relatively spacious with nice windows but poorly equipped. The next was quite small, though well equipped. The hunt was on.

Through local ads, we connected with a couple of potential apartments to rent on a monthly basis. Though our preference was the Latin Quarter, we were open to other locations. We nixed one well-located apartment, because there was an unusual set-up with a part-time renter occasionally sharing common quarters. Not our cup of tea.

We went to see another apartment in the 10th arrondissement under somewhat unusual circumstances. We received a call at 11:00 p.m. from the lady renting the apartment. Could we come to see the apartment now? Well, why not, as long as we could make the Metro to and from the location. So off we went into the night to meet a stranger and see the apartment.

We entered a door into an interesting, windowless, seemingly subterranean area. From there, we entered the apartment. The space was open enough. The furniture seemed comfortable, and the equipment sufficient; but the sleeping area was a visible, rounded cave-like alcove reached by a ladder. One window looked out at ground level on the street. We simply didn’t like the overall feeling, a kind of dark retreat in our “City of Light”.

Parisian charm in Montmartre

Bienvenue Paris entry!

It was then we realized that, while we didn’t have a formal list of preferences; we had instinctive desires – for light, comfort, cleanliness, relative quiet and, of course – safety. We were not ‘spoiled Americans’ in search of some kind of duplicate to the space and convenience we enjoy at home.

Our friend accompanied us to look at another apartment in the garment district. Like me in many ways, she embraces the overall charm of a place, while dismissing negatives. The apartment was crisply white and entirely charming with nice windows, but we could not get past the labyrinth of hallways past workroom doorways, up darkened stairways to reach the apartment.

Finally, we received a personal recommendation from a friend for a place in Montmartre – not our favorite location, but let’s take a look. The apartment was as charming as the owner (who lived in the same building) – an executive headhunter for the cosmetics industry in Paris. She had entirely converted the first floor apartment and blended genuine convenience with salon-style charm. A high-ceiling entry included a large, bright window, fireplace flanked by tall bookcases and cabinets and a grand mirror. The Pullman-style kitchen included every possible appliance and assortment of dishes. The sitting area was stylish and even included a piano – a nice touch, though we don’t play.

We then became Montmartre residents for a month, then for another week after our return to Paris. “Seek and ye shall find.” More about hints for discovering your perfect vacation rental next week!

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

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

Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême

Lithograph of 2004 poster for circuits des ramparts in angouleme france

2004 Circuits des Ramparts Poster

In less than a week the Charente area of western France will be transformed, invaded as it were, by deeply passionate auto enthusiasts who will gather for the 2012 “Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême”.  Carefully pampered, antique luxury cars will be buffed to perfection for display in the classic auto exhibitions, and the gala Concours D’Elegance on Friday evening will find drivers and passengers in flawless ‘costumes’ to evoke eras of the past.  And all of that takes place before Saturday’s premiere race – the Rallye International de Charente – from Chais Magelis to Champ de Mars, Esplanade in Angoulême.

If you were wise enough to plan well ahead, you might enjoy the weekend of events as a guest at La Ferme de l’Église, a lovely 17th-century Charentaise farmhouse in the heart of Vanzay.   I believe we would choose their traditional “La Petite Maison” overlooking grassy courtyards and private gardens and some leisurely moments by the pool, just within sight of the old village church.

A visit to the historic town of Cognac also is a must, where elegant Renaissance buildings and cobbled streets mix with the heavy scent of fabled spirits referred to as the “angel’s share”.  How about a tour and delectable tasting of cognac of Courvoisier or Rémy-Martin?

La Ferme de L'Eglise Charentes France

La Ferme de L’Eglise, Vanzay

Your affable hosts will help to guide your selection of rural cycling and picnic outings (by the lake at Saint-Macoux?), as well as historic forays and dining in Poitiers.  Without a doubt, they will encourage your indulgence in a little known local aperitif – Pineau des Charentes, and offer homemade preserves and local market specialties. 

Perhaps, you will rent one of John’s antique cars to join in the Circuit des Remparts festivities! 

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

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

 

 

FIVE TIPS FOR FRANCE TRAVEL PLANNING

Chateau Eza - Eze France

An elegant Château by the Mediterranean?

We are by no means travel gurus, but we hope to take the “I Could Scream!” out of planning travel to France. Beyond personal insights and vignettes about cities and villages, cuisine and culture; we profile specific areas, inns and elegant hotels. We shine the light on insider treasures and outdoor escapes.If you are a birdwatcher or spelunker, a surfing enthusiast or an archeologist in search of relics; we assume you have very specific interests better discovered on sites catering to the niches you worship. We embrace broader experiences.

We discover beautiful villages and seaside retreats, lively festivals and serious artisans – a potpourri perhaps of general interests for those who want to be ‘touched’ by France. Now and then, we slip in a dream-like luxury escape, not necessarily for the aloof bejeweled patron, but for adventurous travelers in search of ‘one in a lifetime’ experiences.

If you have a unique interest, question or desired destination – or if you want to share suggestions and experiences,  contact us – swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com.  We would be delighted to help you avoid endless searches and annoying pop-ups or provide other readers with your insights!

Planning the trip of your dreams requires that you ask yourself some key questions –

1. Location – Rural, as in lovely under the stars and drive 30 km to reach anything, or rural as in grand manor with everything at your fingertips? Office of Tourism sites usually provide plenty of information to help you narrow your choice.

2. Type of accommodation – “I like quaint.” Is that quaint, as in comfy 2-star with bright blue shutters, or quaint as in elegant château with personable touches?

3. Privacy or social? – Small as in 2-room, almost a member of the family, or small as in 20 rooms with your own space but the freedom to mix with international visitors?

4. Things to do – Culture, as in a museum and rampart on every other corner, or culture as in a mix of museums, historic architecture, lively local markets and resident artisans?

5. Can’t live withouts – Bathtub? Wi-Fi? Multiple restaurant choices? On site dining? Figure out your ‘musts’, so you are not disappointed.

Montilieu la Gardes Frnce

An inviting gîte near Bordeaux?

Whether I research a favorite, decidedly upscale resource like Relais & Château , an ‘in-home’ gite selection or a vacation rental; I realize I have a ‘built-in’ sifter of sorts. That ultra clean and Wi-Fi connected hotel looks like a Comfort Inn in Louisiana. Are we ready to take on that little gîte or chambre d’hôte in Bonnieux with 3 guest rooms? Do we really want ultra-frills luxury in Saint-Tropez or would we enjoy overlooking the Mediterranean from our self-catered vacation rental? Understanding what you want and need from a holiday trip to France will make your journey more rewarding.

Finally, whether you are ‘on the mark’ – or off – with your choices – whether sun or rain greets you – whether your favorite Salon de Thé is closed – embrace the experience. You are in France, after all!

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

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



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Belle-Île – That French Island!

donnant beach belle-ile, brittany france

Donnant Beach – Belle-Île, Brittany France

We all look for different experiences, when we arrange extended holidays or getaway weekends. In planning a recent trip to France, my cousin and his artist wife sought quiet accommodations in given areas, from which they could explore during the day and return to their haven at night. One traveler may prefer the privacy of a self-catered vacation rental, while another wants to soak up the service and civility of a four-star retreat.

All of those choices are available on one of the most spectacular islands of France – Belle-Île, located off the Brittany coast of northern France. Whether you want to hop on a bicycle to explore rocky outcroppings and intimate coves or walk to a little hamlet for croissants and coffee, the island and the amenities spread before you. Imagine pretty villages, wide open spaces, extraordinary coastline and beaches and easy local hospitality.

On the ever-so-safe side of lodging choices, the Castel Clara is a premium choice Relais & Châteaux property, beautifully situated overlooking a rocky cove facing the ocean. The hotel’s thalasso spa is a popular draw for Parisians looking for ‘renewal’, and from the Castel you can reach all parts of the island with a sporty little rental cart or bicycle. Le Grand Large is another choice, again set remotely above the sea. Or you might book a vacation rental – your own home away from home with plenty of room, privacy and shaded terrace.

Once settled in your lodging of choice, hop on those bikes for a ride up and around coastal lanes, rolling dune, through wheat fields to the breathtaking Plage de Donnant. Not only breathtaking but word defying, the beach exudes so much natural beauty; that is almost impossible to put into words. Rocks tower above a silky sand cove with the sound of pounding surf in the background. Thoreau would have been quite comfortable here, I think.

Another outing will take you to an appealing harbor on the northern part of the island – Sauzon, where shaded quais watch over silt-locked boats, until the tidal rescue arrives. Find a pleasant brasserie or restaurant for island lamb, crêpes, or ‘fruits de la mer’. Over a dawdling lunch with crisp white wine, you can watch visitors amble through the picturesque town or small parties toast the setting sun from their boat in the harbor. Of all the experiences you may enjoy on your holiday, it is those small moments when visitors and residents share a view or a laugh that settle into your memory bank for later ‘review’.

Claude Monet's "Port Donnant"

Claude Monet’s “Port Donnant”

While the island is a mere 17 km by 9 km (10.5 by 5.5 miles), some 150 villages and hamlets dot the landscape in between three prominent towns –vibrant Le Palais, colorful Sauzon to the North, and Bangor with its towering lighthouse above the sea. Wander along the shore and imagine the brush strokes of Monet himself, standing seaside to capture the plein-air landscape along Donnant beach. Good company, wouldn’t you say?

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

Guadeloupe’s French Olympian

 

Beaches of the Guadaloupe Islands - French Region

Beaches of the Guadaloupe Islands – © ATOUT FRANCE/Eric Larrayadieu

With the start of the Olympics around the corner, let’s take a look at one of France’s most accomplished Summer Olympians.  Considered one the greatest of modern female sprinters, Marie-José Pérec is a native of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe and was nicknamed “The Gazelle” (and the Greta Garbo of athletics for her insistent privacy) for her speed and graceful running style in track.

Under the flag of France, she specialized in the 300 and 400 meter and won three gold medals in the 1990s in Tokyo, Barcelona and Atlanta.  In London this year, Julien Absalon is a French medal hopeful, looking to add to his gold medals won in Athens and Beijing.  Another Frenchman who was the first white man to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meter sprint hopes to race in that event, as well as the 200 meter.

Pérec’s birthplace of Basse-Terre is the western wing of Guadeloupe’s two primary islands that resemble butterfly wings with a mangrove swamp between them.  It is home to a national park with hiking trails, a Jacques Cousteau underwater reserve and La Soufrière volcano.

The eastern island is Grande-Terre, home to surfing schools, long and lazy sandy beaches and beach bars from which to overlook the gorgeous azure water.  Small archipelagos stretch southward from the ‘mainland’, each with unique characteristics that round out the essence of the Guadeloupe Islands.

It is ever so easy to absorb the perfect blend of French charm, island relaxation and gorgeous landscape. The main resort area of Guadeloupe is the reef-protected waters off the southern coast of Grande-Terre, while the eastern side of the island is buffeted with the crashing surf of the Atlantic.

Traditional Guadeloupe house -Les Villas Aquarelles in Saint Rose

Traditional Guadeloupe house -Les Villas Aquarelles in Saint Rose – © ATOUT FRANCE/Eric Larrayadieu

As a center of Caribbean Creole culture, you will readily notice the blend of French African and Caribbean influences in Guadeloupe’s culture, dance, cuisine and patois language.  Though colonized by the French, the islands also came under British, and briefly, Swedish rule before becoming a “department” of France in 1946.  The islands now operate as an overseas region with representation in Paris.  The Euro is the island currency, and French is the official language.

Not only do visitors enjoy spectacular seaside views and rainforest hikes, they can choose from many vacation rentals, hotels and bed & breakfasts.  And word has it that you must not miss waterfront dining in Saint François at L’O – quite a gourmet experience!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Troglodyte Dwellings of France

Troglodyte homes in Amboise, Loire Valley, France
Oh, do come visit my little cave in Amboise!
Troglodyte homes – what in the world are they?  For starters they are historic, domesticated cave dwellings that are quite common in the Loire Valley, phenomena as rich in history as the valleys and castles of the region.  In fact, we stayed in a delightful ‘semi-troglodyte’ dwelling in Civray de Touraine, a tiny commune of less than 1,800 residents near Amboise.

And, as we walked up rue Victor Hugo toward the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, we passed by half-timbered homes and troglodyte dwellings tucked into ancient cliffs – unusual dwellings with flower boxes, brightly-colored shutters and little stone alcoves that held their satellite dishes.  Can you even imagine this mix of ancient rock and contemporary electronics?

So what is this business of building homes straight into the ancient (like millions of years old) white stone walls of caves that hover above the Loire River?   Some homes are actually built of the tuffeau stone, cut in blocks from those walls.  The most serious use of the stone, though, was for the construction of the many renowned chateaux and castles throughout the valley.

Amboise, France troglodyte home
Don’t you love the space above the door for the ‘dish’?

And that’s the real story.  Quarrying of the tuffeau dates to the 11th century, when great cavities were created in the hills.  People moved in to those spaces, finding them to be a low-cost refuge.  These spaces, you see, don’t go away.  People find new uses, learn to dress them up to their own pleasure and convert them into their own vacation retreats, artist galleries or – I am not kidding – create a hotel in a honeycomb of caves.  For my taste, I rather think I’d prefer to be very much above ground with expansive views of the sky and the landscape.

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

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

 

French Hotel or Vacation Rental?

bordeaux bed and breakfast, france

The long driveway that led to our 19th century gites in Bordeaux

Sometimes we like to be tucked into a nice hotel in the city, but we also enjoy the unique experience of staying in vacation rentals in more remote places.  It gives us the feeling of living in the French countryside.

We have stayed in the gorgeous apartments owned by a dentist whose sideline hobby is creating works of wrought iron.  Another lovely apartment just down the road from the renowned Chateaux Chenonceau was owned by an artist and his family.  Built up against a rocky outcropping, their children’s playroom literally was carved out of the cliff wall.  After a week in our ‘troglodyte’ habitat, we slowly backed out of the driveway only to have the owner’s brother run to us with a bottle of wine his family produced.

And that’s the beauty of staying in out-of-the-way places – getting to know the people, the village, the customs and marketplace.  An excellent resource for vacation rentals, whether in Paris or Provence, is Vacation Rentals by Owners.

GÎtes de France is also an ideal resource for locating bed and breakfast lodging, where perhaps a few rooms in a home are offered for rental, and breakfast with your hosts and fellow guests provides more opportunities to broaden your vacation experience.

toulouse vacation rental, france
Lovely vacation rental near Toulouse

We wish you happy ‘hunting’ and even happier vacation memories.

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

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

Dining at Home in Paris

Entertaining in our vacation rental in Paris

Entertaining in our vacation rental in Paris

We will be working on an intense marketing project over the next few days, so enjoy photos from Paris and look for our regular vignettes on Monday.  It is always a pleasure to share news and views of France with our very special readers.

 

 

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

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

A Week in Colorful Roussillon

Fascinating ochre cliffs of Roussillon

Fascinating ochre cliffs of Roussillon

We already love the village of Roussillon, the Technicolor bursts of yellows, reds, oranges and greens that burst through the village like an artist’s palette.  Now, we’ve found the perfect vacation rental, so we can settle in for a week to explore to our heart’s content.

We have enjoyed vacation rentals in Paris, where we learn to blend into the neighborhood and offer our daily “bonjours” to the baker and wine merchant.  We want to do the same in Roussillon, where this delightful studio is in the blissfully natural countryside but a five minute walk to town.

The old ochre quarry of Roussillon is nothing short of amazing.  It makes me think of nature’s divine art, of seashells with every color and design.  Such are the red cliffs of the quarry, striped in fascinating designs and colors and set against the backdrop of blue skies and green pines.

Countryside vacation rental in Roussillon
Countryside vacation rental in Roussillon

We won’t limit ourselves to Roussillon, as the entire area is replete with charming towns and the gorgeous landscape of the Grand Luberon and the Vaucluse plateau.  Perhaps a week won’t be quite enough.  We shall see.

 

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

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

Saint-Désert, Petite Charm of Burgundy

Handsome stone buildings and plentiful flowers of the village

Communes dot the landscape of France, offering petite surprises around every curve in the road.  One memorable place was Mosnes, a short distance from Amboise.  We stayed in a vacation rental in this small hamlet, where communal gardens lay in neat rows down to the Loire.  Early in the morning, we would walk a short block to purchase fresh croissants from the sole patisserie.

Saint-Désert is much the same, a village of Burgundy in the department of Saône-et-Loire.  The community includes key shops – a bakery, coffee shop, hairdresser, plasterer, bricklayer and little post office.  One company tends to shutters and verandas; another handles plumbing and heating.

There is an endearing charm to a community that can readily tick off their tradesmen and shops.  While those are necessary support groups, Saint Désire is primarily a wine village. Fully 20% of the village land is devoted to lush vineyards, nearly all of them owned by townspeople who share the responsibilities of planting, pruning, picking and bottling the wine.  Then, off they go to be sold in one of the Co-op Cave de Vins.  Buy your wine there, and you directly support the locals.

Lush vineyards of Burgundy

Named for a Désiré monk , the village has 900 or so residents called Holy Désiréens.  They live in typical rural homes with lots of stone, tiled roofs and vivid gardens.   Nearby, Saint Isidore Church watches over the farmers, and an old windmill lies in ruins, a quaint symbol, perhaps, of antiquated ways.

There is even a small inn along this part of the wine route – Domaine de Nesvres – where you can stay a night or two to enjoy the owners’ hospitality in the middle of Burgundy vineyards and explore the area by bicycle.

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

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

Une Soirée Très Unique à Amboise

The striking Château d’ Amboise on a promontory overlooking Amboise and the Loire River

The weekend of my husband’s birthday, our friends took the train from Paris to join us for a celebration in Amboise.  They arrived early on Friday, so we were able to explore the pretty gardens around our vacation rental as well as the sights of Amboise.

We wandered among pedestrian lanes and quaint boutiques, beneath the 11th-century Château d’ Amboise and up rue Victor Hugo to Clos Lucé, the final home of Leonardo da Vinci.  It was a pleasant and interesting walk past troglodyte caves and half-timbered homes, leaning precariously under the considerable weight of age.

We managed to take in quite a bit of the countryside during their visit – to see the light show at Château de Chambord, to visit the Abbey at Pontlevoy and picnic by the Loire.  Our friends are much like us, enjoying on-the-go moments as much as quiet walks and riverside pique-niques.

Our birthday celebration on Saturday produced several memorable moments.  Early in the day, Philippe and I huddled over a restaurant guide to choose the perfect destination for our dinner.  We reduced the selection to two – a chateau restaurant with a la carte choices or a set menu, in what has been referred to as the “best restaurant in Amboise”.  While I do have an adventurous palate, I thought dining outside at the latter would be a wonderful experience; and surely I could trust the chef’s menu choices.

We arrived at a beautiful, stately home that serves as a small hotel and restaurant.  It is set apart from the city in a lovely, walled garden with the magnificent Château d’Amboise as a backdrop.  Atmosphere – I love it!  We were seated outside under the stars at a table set for royalty – sparkling crystal and charger plates, crisp linens and little pebbles strewn here and there on the table to glisten in the candlelight.

Outdoor dining under the stars

After wine was presented, our waiter described the two set menus – vegetarian and traditional.  Remember, I’m not adventurous, and something on the traditional menu was not appealing.  The men opted for traditional, the ladies vegetarian.

The memory lurches to our first two vegetarian courses.  One, a pimiento starter, seasoned of course, and delicately placed on china.  Our second – pimiento again, prepared in a different manner, but nonetheless … was there a sale on peppers in the marketplace?

I hasten to add that I am not meaning to cast shadows on the restaurant.  The service was impeccable, the wine superb.  The pain et beurre mouthwatering.  And the finale was 7 delicate, desserts, beautifully served in petite stemmed crystal glasses in front of each of us.

You could not discover better theater and atmosphere than that.  Truly, that final ‘show’ overshadowed our quiet surprise over the first two courses, and left us with an amusing tale to share with friends.

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

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

At Home on Montmartre

Montmartre's view over the city

Montmartre evokes so many images, so much history; as it looks over Paris from her high perch.  Naturally, the Basilica of Sacré Coeur is the Mont’s iconic sight, poised above the City of Light, like a glittering white ice cream cone.  For all of the artists, heritage, windmills and martyrs; we came to enjoy Montmartre as our home for nearly six weeks – a home with daily new discoveries, friendly neighbors and hidden gems along its’ winding streets.

From our delightfully comfortable and classic vacation apartment, we settled in to pleasant routines.  We learned to skirt the hordes of tourists heading to the Basilica’s steps and gardens.  Or we joined them, climbing the walkways to the top, sitting on the steps to listen to the notes of a violin and watch the mimes and living statues.

One day, sadly, we learned that a dear friend had died; so in tribute to him, we climbed to a shady place on the lawn overlooking Paris.  There, among students sketching and families sharing snacks, we remembered our cheerful, intelligent friend.

We passed the old Théâtre de l’Atelier and joined the morning lines at the patisserie, where we bought our baguettes, hearty artisan breads and tartes.  We stopped often to visit Théo, who guided our selection of wine.  And a little closer to our apartment, La Presse was a regular stop for papers and magazines.

We found a favorite spot by the Abbesses carousel to simply watch the people.  One unforgettable old man readily comes to mind.  He was sitting on a bench, with the colorful carousel and joyous children just behind him.  He sat hunched over, his clothes soiled, his head bloodied no doubt from a fall or fight.  And a half empty bottle of wine sat by his feet.  His air of hopelessness was palpable.

Just up the street – in an area our landlady said is a favorite with Bo-Bo’s (Bohemian-Bourgeois), we found sunny outdoor cafes and a mix of artsy shops and galleries.  Two little bistros became our favorites, more for the atmosphere and location than for gourmet dining.  One was tucked right behind the Basilica on a short pedestrian street with minimal traffic.  A good selection of Italian fare was perfectly complimented by our smiling accordion player.  The other was a tiny café that hugged the side of the hill, where we enjoyed friendly service and an amusing exchange between a young lady and a traveling jewelry salesman trying to get a date.

By our favorite cafe

I suspect we could write a book about those weeks, but let’s end with a delightful walk that took us past old Montmartre cottages and windmills.  We happened upon a pretty little park named Place Suzanne Buisson.  Children played on the grassy areas, and young men gathered for a game of petanque under the trees.

The plaque in Ms. Buisson’s honor was a surprise to us.  She had been a socialist leader advocating equal rights for men and women.  She merged her group to join the Resistance movement, and was ultimately arrested and killed by the Gestapo.  And so it is throughout Paris, where the lightness of heart mixes with somber history.

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

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

The “Île aux Vaches” Transformed

Berthillon's cafe on Ile Saint-Louis

Without hesitation I can say that Île Saint-Louis is one of our favorite places in Paris; so it is difficult to imagine the island as an unadulterated cow pasture in the middle of the Seine.  But that’s exactly what it was – Île aux Vaches (Île of Cows) – where the occasional court-ordered duel might shatter the otherwise peaceful pasture.

It remained so until King Louis XIII launched an urban plan to transform the island into a prestigious neighborhood.  Elegant townhouses were built between 1620 and 1650, using stone and slate in place of the fire-prone wood and thatch roofs.  Thus, the island was transformed into a place of privilege for affluent Parisians to escape from the bustle of the city.

Today, Île Saint-Louis remains a quaint haven compared to her neighbor, Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapel, the Palais de Justice and other island attractions draw thousands of visitors.  Ile Saint-Louis is more like a 17th-century village with narrow, one-way streets, bakeries, cafes, one of the city’s most famous flower shops and interesting little specialty boutiques, galleries and gourmet shops.  We never tire of wandering along the narrow streets and stepping down the stairways to the island’s tree-shaded quays.  We find our little bench to watch the boats and ducks glide through the river, the occasional fisherman and, always, pairs of lovers here and there.

Rather a nice spot for fishing!

During our last trip, we actually stayed in a vacation rental on the island – a charming apartment overlooking a school yard, where we could watch the children play and form an obedient line to receive their snacks.  For all of our exploring, it seems there are always things we miss, experiences we want to add in the future.

While we have enjoyed every type of meal on the island, we’ve yet to buy a single flower from Patrick Allain’s shop or a single scoop of Berthillon’s famous homemade ice cream.  Our most memorable omission was our failure to purchase an exceptional painting, while on our honeymoon.  There was a boutique gallery featuring the work of a Vietnamese artist, who used bold splashes of color in his works.  Alas, we did not make that purchase, but I have enjoyed trying to replicate his work several times.

Just one of my 'knock-offs'

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


Paris Pass

Chinaillon – Quaint Alpine Village

A little hike behind our gite

Wandering through the ever-changing French countryside offers a delightful contrast to your experiences in larger cities.  After the constant excitement and stimuli of Paris or Lyon, a little sojourn through eastern France reminds us that warm people and wonderful sights blanket this exceptional country.

In the summertime, cooler temperatures, spectacular mountain views and Alpine meadows make our nomadic wanderings all the more special.  Chinaillon and Le Grand Bornand throb with winter ski revelers, but transform to quiet and oh-so-pleasant hiking villages during the summer months.

Our gite (B&B), L’Isalou, is an excellent choice as a base for exploration for a couple of nights.  It’s a warm and welcoming chalet just up the lane from the old chapel in Chinaillon, where our host, Jean-Louis, led us to our cozy wood-paneled retreat.

Breakfast on the open-air porch

After settling in, we simply stepped out our door and took the hiking trail to the top of the mount in the back of the chalet.  On another walk, we explored the petite village just down the narrow lane and found a special outdoor café for dinner.  A pichet of wine, spaghetti bolognaise and a regional tartiflette proved a satisfying meal with a delightful bird’s eye view of the village and mountains.

Regional fare, exceptional view

There’s a quiet and aerie-like feeling, when you look out on the gentle roll of green hills with soaring limestone peaks in the distance.  We enjoyed having time for quiet reflection and appreciation of this stunning landscape.

Part of the joy of exploring the countryside is in coming across the village market, where an elderly French farmer offers his cart full of live, free-range chickens; or in a little hamlet, discovering the talents of local artisans.  It is in these smaller, slice-of-life experiences that we have the time and temperament to appreciate the many faces of France.
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

 

At Home in the Loire Valley

Pique-nique along the Loire

One of the most difficult parts of traveling in France for an extended period – from 3 weeks to 3 months – is to balance the going and the staying.  If you are constantly on the run, you can see everything but experience nothing.

We have had our “I wish” moments – more time to enjoy and experience Annecy, “parking” for a week at a vacation rental in Provence to be able to explore at leisure.

That is exactly what we did in the Loire Valley, where we settled in as residents just outside of Amboise.  Our rental was immaculate, comfortable and well equipped; and we discovered a bit  of the rhythm of the area.  We went to the wonderful Amboise market that would put to shame many American farmers markets.  There must have been 300+ vendors of sausage, cheese, breads, wines, vegetables, fruits and flowers – wonderful!  Add to that colorful handmade crafts and delightful, cooked-on-the-spot paella and roasted chicken.  The sights, scents and ambiance left an indelible imprint and a promise to return.

Steaming paella

We returned ‘home’ from the market to cook, relax, walk and explore.  At our pleasant outdoor garden table, we enjoyed homemade leek and potato soup to start, roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots, with wine from the region and finished with a pear torte we had purchased from a baker ‘down the road’.   Sounds like a Julia Childs blurb, but it was nice to be domesticated, enjoy such fresh foods and feel a bit settled after all the travel.

 

One magical evening, when our friends were visiting from Paris, we packed up assorted salads, bread, cheese and wine and headed down to the riverbanks of the Loire River.  Our timing was perfect, with just enough daylight to enjoy our picnic, before the sun began to set over the water.  It may sound like a movie scene, perhaps, but it was moment carved away from the world ‘out there’.

Riverside dining

 

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

 

 

 

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

Along the Côte d’Azur – Giens

Port du Niel fishing boats

We were driving eastward along the French Riviera near Hyères, when we made another of our “why not?” decisions.  We took a right that led south across a narrow salt flat road to the Giens peninsula.

It turned out to be an excellent decision, as we wound through clustered parasol pines that opened onto the charming Giens village center and the obligatoire church plaza.  We wandered along the main village street, where welcoming shops, bakeries, galleries and sidewalk cafes mixed pastel Provencal colors with French blue shutters and doors.  Toward the end of the street, we climbed stairs to reach a garden with panoramic views of the Hyeres and the Ile de Porquerolles.

Imagine a vacation rental in Giens

Those views demanded a closer look, so we drove along the Route du Port du Niel, until we rounded a corner to a magnificent sight.  Colorful fishing boats bobbed in the crystal waters by a rock pier, and tree-lined cliffs spilled down to the little harbor.  We were to learn that people gather each morning to buy the fresh catch from local fishermen.  But on this day, we were alone in the sun to gaze out over the sea.

Wave washed rocks of Giens

A coastal footpath offered stunning views of little coves and rocky outcroppings, sweet scents and the ever present orchestra of cicadas.

Not every spontaneous turn in the road led to such perfection, but this day, this turn brought us a touch of heaven.  Giens is definitely on our ‘short list’ of places to find a vacation rental and absorb the peace of a village far removed from the rush of the city.

 

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

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

Gordes – Plus Beaux Village

Popular dining plaza, Gordes

 

We drive east from Avignon and approach Gordes along a picturesque road that threads through light stone walls to arrive at the village parking area.  What a pleasure it is to walk through Gordes, where tiny shops and restaurants share cobbled lanes with the ancient chapel and cliffside homes. 

One of the abundant hilltop villages that seem to be delicately carved from the stone crest, Gordes is recognized by the Plus Beaux Villages de France organization as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.  It enjoys triple blessings of natural beauty, history and attentive restoration.  The terraced village is both rustic and elegant, made entirely of stone, and splashed through with the vibrant colors of flowers and window shutters, tall Italian poplars and sweeping views of the Luberon valley below. 

When you step carefully along the arched alleyways that work their way down and around the village, you gain a sense of the quiet and refreshing nature of village life, of sun filtering through the trees and paths, of steps lined with welcoming geraniums and the refreshing fountains that date to back to Roman times. 

We visit luxury textile shops and petite businesses offering lavender and honey products, truffles and Provencal wines and, always, a bright collection of pottery.  In the open square, canvas umbrellas shield carefully set tables, where locals and visitors enjoy their luncheon fare.

Gorde’s feeling of permanence and charm is not by accident.  Strict architectural requirements allow only stone walls and terracotta clay-tiled roofs and a subtle palette of exterior wall colors – white, honey or beige-tinted stones. The result is understated and authentic, long popular with visiting French artists and, more recently, with upscale French and international visitors.  From the walled perimeter, you find a spectacular view of the Luberon Valley that spreads below Gordes, as if to highlight the perched village atop.

Fountain in the plaza center

The invasions during the 16th century religious wars have been replaced by seasonal invasions of tourists, who may begin their visit at the tourist information office in the medieval castle at the village summit.  The devoted restoration belies the turbulent village history that extended from the Roman Empire through World War II, when Gordes served as a resistance stronghold.

Should you want an extended visit, you have excellent lodging choices in  lovely vacation homes and hospitable inns.  The selection of restaurants is also exceptional, though many of Gorde’s experiences are expensive to enjoy. 
 
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Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

Vacation Rental in the Loire Valley

Our "troglodyte" home in Civray-de-Touraine

 

The Loire Valley offers a virtual feast of pleasures – of historic sites and architectural gems, of cultural monuments and remarkable beauty, of dynamic cities and peaceful villages.  Elegant castles spread through a landscape filled with forests, vineyards, wheat-swept fields and, of course, the lovely Loire River.

Through Gîtes de France®, we chose a beautiful rental in the small commune of Civray-de-Touraine, just a short distance to the Château de Chenonceau.  The helpful Gîtes organization has regional offices throughout France with listings of thousands of vacation rentals. The back wall of our place was literally an outgrowth of the cliff behind us, known in France as a troglodyte (or cave) dwelling.  Our two-bedroom rental was handsomely designed by the artist/owner and included stone steps from our 2nd floor bedroom to the open garden below.  We enjoyed a week of leisurely drives in the country, through vineyards and to historic sites, like the splendid Château .

Troglodyte storerooms behind our rental home

Once, in fact, we packed up our wine, bread and cheese (yes – clichéd, but an awful lot of fun!) and found a lane that brought us to the banks of the Cher River, directly across from Chenonceau.

We really felt like residents looking out on all of the castle visitors (we had, after all, just been visitors a couple of days earlier), but then that is exactly what the vacation rental experience provides.  You have the opportunity to live and act as a local, visiting the market, pinning your laundry to the clothesline and fixing your own tasty French onion soup for dinner.

Chenonceau stretches across the River Cher

 


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

The Inn at Saint-Gervais-d’Auvergne

Cheerful little wine bar at the relais

 

We stayed in a charming hotel in Auvergne – Le Relais d’Auvergne.  Remembering that attitude is everything, a few wrong turns down little roads in the Puy de Dome area allowed us to take in the stunning countryside, as we made our way to the inn.  Having received two phone calls from us about directions, the innkeepers readily welcomed us with a glass of rose and a reminder that dinner would be served in an hour. 

And what a lovely dinner it was – delicious beef filet with morel mushrooms, an excellent Bordeaux wine and a biscuit style dessert.  The atmosphere evoked a dining at home with friends feeling with cheerful, checkered curtains, open beams, fireplace and personal antiques and bric-a-brac throughout the dining room.  The next morning, we strolled through the peaceful Saint-Gervais-d’Auvergne village, before taking off to explore.

Our room view over the quiet village

The Puy-de-Dome area includes the oldest geological mountain range in France with a mix of dense forests, extinct volcanoes, the Sioule River gorges and mirror-like lakes.  The area is perfect for hiking and biking and taking in the lush green landscape.

 

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

Awaken to Color in Civray

 

Colorful Montgolfier “Alarm Clock”

Imagine with me for a moment.  You are in a lovely vacation rental in the peaceful countryside of Civray-de-Touraine, just down the road from the magnificent Chenonceau castle.  You are in that pleasant awakening stage, not asleep, but enjoying a few moments more of the quiet morning, before setting out about your day.

You hear a whooshing sound.  “What in the world?” you wonder and hear the sound again.  Time to investigate.  You go to the window, only to see a brightly colored hot-air balloon, rising ever so slowly above the trees.  What a gorgeous sight – clear blue skies, quaint country cottage, dew still resting on the lawn.  Such a wonderful “alarm clock” to awaken you for another day of exploring the French countryside!

And, by the way, the word for hot-air balloon in French is Montgolfier, so named for the brothers who invented the colorful contraption in the 16th century.  Merci beaucoup Messieurs Joseph et Jacques!

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

Tucked Away Near Toulouse

Classic reception and dining hall at La Pradasse

We drove under canopies of giant plane trees, as we entered the tiny commune of Ayguesvives, just 15 minutes from Toulouse. We found our reserved ‘chambre d’hote’ through the ever-helpful Gites de France organization that promotes self-catered and B & B accommodations throughout France. Tucked in a spacious sanctuary in the middle of a pleasant neighborhood, “La Pradasse” offered a wonderful respite from our long drive. Plentiful trees, vivid flowers, a petite bridge to the reception and a welcoming open-air pool cast a restful spell from the moment of our arrival.

Our host Frédéric Antoine greeted us in a stunning reception/dining area with soaring spans of unique ironwork, glass and brick accents. Our room mirrored the same mix of classic and contemporary design – breathtaking! Frédéric explained that he and his family created La Pradasse from an ancient shed adjacent to their charming home, preserving only the open brick pillars. An accomplished ferroniere, ironwork artist, he designed and created the remaining structure of iron and glass – a place “dedicated to the art of living and wellbeing.” A savory continental breakfast greeted us in the morning, and our stay included free parking, outdoor private patio, internet access and delightful garden surroundings. The Gîtes de France quality label guarantees specific comfort standards from 1 to 4 “ears of corn”. Naturally, La Pradasse was a 4-ear pleasure!


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

Charming Gite in the Countryside

Al fresco aperitifs in Montlieu la Garde

For a different rural type of experience, we booked a couple of nights at a charming Gîte (B&B) – “Les Galards” – some 50 kilometers north of Bordeaux.  Set on a working farm, the lovely home was built in 1857 and beautifully restored in 2001.  Over two idyllic days, we shared apéritifs drinks at a long, outdoor table and breakfast in the colorful dining room with the hospitable owner and 3 other guests.

During the day, we roamed quiet countryside roads, visited village galleries and found our way to the Gironde River, all the while passing sunflower fields and fertile vineyards.  In fact, the renowned Bordeaux and Cognac vineyards spread along the hills edging down to the river.  We dined in small villages in the evening and returned up the long driveway to our comfortable home away from home.  The experience was so delightful, we know we shall return again.


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

“My Little Home in Paris”

Paris France vacation rentals

Our 18th Century Vacation Rental in Paris

 

Take just a few steps from Place Contrescarpe at the top of the famous rue Mouffetard market street.  Enter your door code, pass through the courtyard and up the stairs, and you’re “Home”. 

That’s how easy and delightful your stay can be in a vacation apartment in Paris.  We chose “My Little Home in Paris” in the Latin Quarter, and at 500 Euros a week, 80 Euros a night, enjoyed huge value over a comparably-priced hotel room.  Just imagine – a full bath, attractive furnishings, wi-fi and free phone service, well-equipped kitchenette and more. 

What we liked best was the genuine experience of living as a Parisian – exchanging “bonjours” with neighbors, stepping around the corner to the wine shop or marketplace, having friends to dinner at our petite table by the window.  And our rental home owners were wonderful, greeting us with chocolates and wine and acquainting us with the area, shopping choices, metro stops, restaurants and favorite spots to visit.

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