Rouen – Where the Seine is “Main Street”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

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

  

Sculpture of Rodin’s “Master”

Exhibition of sculpture, Paris

The sculpture of Rodin’s Master

Just imagine.  If we were in Paris today, we would have the distinct privilege of taking in a special exhibition at the magnificent Château de Compiègne Museum just north of the capital.  Until the end of October, the works of one of the most renowned French sculptors will be on display, that of Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887).  One of the premiere sculptors of the Second Empire, Carrier-Belleuse is considered Rodin’s Master, as Auguste Rodin was a student in the sculptor’s workshop.

Seemingly no artistic genre attracts me more than sculpture, where the materials under masterful hands deliver beauty and energy, brute force and quiet repose.  Carrier-Belleuse seemed tireless in his sculpting, turning out busts and statues, bronzes and figurines.  No material seemed indifferent  under his piercing talent.

While he began his training as the apprentice of a goldsmith and later studied at École des Beaux-Arts and Petite École, the sculptor spent over five years designing ceramics and metalwork models for  companies like Wedgwood in England.  When he began to exhibit large sculptures at the Salon in Paris, he attracted important patrons and significant commissions.

Emperor Napoléon III tapped his considerable talents in numerous public projects during the rebuilding of Paris between 1851 and 1870 – from the torchères for the Paris Opéra to the marble Bacchante purchased by the emperor for the Jardins des Tuileries.  Later the State awarded a Medal of Honor and the cross of the Légion d’Honneur for his marble Messiah that was allotted to Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in Paris.

Fine arts sculpture Paris

“Printemps” by Carrier Belleuse

Though continuously producing abundant pieces for international patrons, Carrier-Belleuse was highly visible and commercially successful in the applied arts.  Appointed director of works at the state Manufacture de Sèvres, he significantly elevated the stature of applied arts and impacted the careers of younger sculptors – like Auguste Rodin – who apprenticed with him.

Might I be among the first to recommend you take a little time from your enjoyment of Paris to take in this remarkable exhibition?  For less than the cost of a movie in the United States, you will enjoy the energy, humor and unrivalled imagination of Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse.

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

Copyright © 2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Normandy’s Plus Beaux Beuvron-en-Auge

Basse Normandy France

Beuvron’s half-timbered houses

Oui – yet another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France   (The most beautiful villages of France).   Up in the Basse-Normandie region of northwestern France, Beuvron-en-Auge is just a couple of hours … but a world apart … from Paris.  Comfortably situated between the sea and countryside, this charmingly beautiful village seems like a stage setting with half-timbered 17th century houses, a lovely old inn from the 1700’s, the authentically Normand Church San Marino and a very beautiful Manor House.

Flower boxes dress the sparkling windows and open spaces, and quaint, colorful signs show the way to the local patisserie or epicerie or brocante.  They celebrate all kinds of things in Beuvron – geraniums and cider and an exotic dessert rice pudding called tergoule; and they have a central location, where many farm products are offered.

Normandy France

Tasteful signs of many colors

Doesn’t it make you wonder how this small community of less than 500 people should gain the esteemed “Most Beautiful Village” designation?  Well, let’s see exactly how that comes to be.

Of the more than 32,000 villages that have shaped the French countryside over time, there are currently 157 villages that share membership in the association.  These are the special places with a passion to reveal the quality of their distinct heritage – their history, land, culture and people.

Three requirements must be met, before the four-stage process of selecting

Michelin-star restaurant

Pave d’Auge Normandy cuisine

villages.  The village population must not exceed 2,000.  The village must include at least two protected areas of legendary, picturesque, scientific, artistic or historic interest.  Finally, the decision to apply for admission must be taken by the town council.  Once those requirements are fulfilled, four stages form the selection process:

1.            Evaluation of a village’s application

2.            On-site evaluation

3.            Quality Committee

4.            Quality Charter

A former stronghold of the Harcourt family, Beuvron easily fits the picturesque requirements, with brick and half-timbered buildings and country homes scattered about the landscape.

The village is on the Cider Route and on the Cheese Route; and the Place de la Halle (Market Square) is now home to the inviting Pave d’Auge Normandy restaurant, where Michelin-star menus and regional gastronomy augment the exposed beams and timberwork of the old covered market.

Hmmm….shall we order the Saint-Jacques dans un bouillon de cidre or a savory soufflé?  Naturally a glass of vin de pays du Calvados will accompany our meal.

By the way, the Pave d’Auge is a bed and breakfast; so if you are inclined to absorb the lovely Normandy countryside, stay a while with Sophie and her husband.

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

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.

 

 

How to Add Van Gogh to Your Paris Trip

day trip Paris france

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day trip Paris France

Hotel de Ville by Van Gogh

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Waterfront Pleasures in Auxerre

Burgundy France near Paris

Auxerre on the Yonne River

 

We love cool and soothing waterfront views, whether they are overlooking lakes, rivers or that fabulous Mediterranean Sea. That’s why Auxerre is so appealing, a town of about 40,000 situated on the River Yonne in the Burgundy region, just an hour-and-a-half from Paris.

Originally Auxerre prospered as an active port on the wine route, but today holiday boaters and hotel barges provide easy enjoyment of the Yonne and the Nivernais Canal.  Much of the activity in Auxerre centers on the water with joggers, cyclists and boaters ever present.   A relaxing boat tour is a favorite, but we tend toward lazy times under shaded café terraces along the quay.

Ironically, we live in Orlando, where so many lakes dot the landscape, but you have to work very hard to find a waterfront café.  Very few such restaurants are in the area, and some even choose to build their parking lot overlooking the water rather than the restaurant!  Absolutely senseless!

Auxerre France

The Cathedral of Saint-Etienne

Tucked behind the quay, we wind up cobbled streets past half-timbered houses to the lovely, restored Cathedral Saint-Etienne.  The magnificent cathedral transformed over time from its’ initial 11th-century structure to the 18th century.  Just around the corner from the cathedral, we were fortunate to know about Le Petite Monde d’Edith, a wonderful little home-like restaurant; where potluck reigns and hospitality is natural!

Beyond tranquil waterways, the area is famous for vineyards and sprawling orchards of apple and cherry trees.  Yes, as you can imagine, the wine and the regional cuisine are inspired!   

Auxerre is an excellent base from which to explore this vast and beautiful region of France.

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

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

Mix History and Dining in Fontainebleau

Day trip from Paris France

The stately grounds of Fontainebleau

How about a touch of American history to blend with a spectacular lunch today? We shall dine in a stately mansion in Fontainebleau that dates back to the early 19th century and overlooks Picasso’s 1921 residence. But that’s not all.

Our chosen restaurant is The Patton, so named for the Patton Square in Foutainebleau, where a plaque commemorates General George Patton, Jr, Commander of the U.S. 3rd Army. General Patton was made an honorary citizen of the town of Fontainebleau in February, 1945.

Fontainebleau is but an hour (less than 50 miles) from Paris, so the historic town and lovely castle and forest make a pleasant day trip from the city. Before lunch, enjoy a glass of wine in the beautiful walled garden of The Patton. The food is an exceptional blend of traditional French cuisine and fresh local produce and meats.

After your satisfying meal, wander about the city and castle. The magnificent horseshoe steps in front of the chateau are breathtaking.

On those steps in 2007, the French held a very touching ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the dedication of La Voie de la Liberté – Liberty Road.  The road is a living ‘monument’ to the Allied march through northern France, so you might want to read about it for yourself. Again, it centers around the indefatigable and – yes – controversial General Patton. But setting aside any political storms in which he was involved; you readily understand the gratitude of the French, when reviewing General Patton’s awards – and these listed below are only from France. Many more honors were bestowed from other countries.

Liberty Road celebration Fontainebleau  France

La Voie de la Liberté Ceremony

Croix de Guerre of 1939 with Palm
Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star
Medal of the Legion of Honor
Medal of Verdun (WWI)
Metz Medal of Liberation (1944)
Commemorative Medal, City of Nancy
Commerative Medallion, City of Metz (1944)
Commerative Medalion Cities of Fontainebleau and Barbizon
Gourmier Pin of Morocco (French)
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor
Liberation of Tours “Patton” Medallion
Liberation Medallion, City of d’Epernay
Liberation Medallion, City of Metz (1918)
Medallion of the City of Rheims

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Orléans – Capital of the Loire Valley

 

Orléans on the Loire River

 

Planning a trip to France in May?  If so, by all means include a visit to Orléans on your itinerary.  You’ll be just in time to celebrate the festival of Joan of Arc, complete with traditional costumes and medieval food. It was on the south bank of the Loire River that Joan and the royal generals Dunois and d’Amiot-Iliers fought in May of 1429 and liberated the city from the Plantagenets during the Hundred Years’ War.

To this day the city folks refer to her as “la pucelle d’Orléans” (the maid of Orléans) and pay homage to Joan of Arc with an elegant statue in the city center’s Place du Martroi. In fact, what better place to begin exploring Orléans.  Some of the most beautiful streets in the city lie between this Place and the Loire River, where the  Quai du Châtelet stretches for blocks and blocks along the north bank of the river.   It’s a lovely spot for cycling, strolling or enjoying a waterfront picnic.

I particularly enjoyed the regal Hotel Groslot, one of many French renaissance mansions in the center of Orléans.  In a park-like setting with elegant fencing, the enormous 16th-century Hotel is right across from city hall.  Some of the more famous visitors to this exquisite building were the French Kings Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV.  The Sainte-Croix Cathedral is a natural favorite, as it closely resembles Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.  Nearby, you can enjoy some of the finest pieces of French art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (The Museum of Fine Arts).

Pretty streets of Vieux Orléans

Just 120 kilometers southwest of Paris, Orléans is an easy train trip from the capital.  Many choose to make Orléans their base from which to explore the many famous Chateaux of the Loire Valley.   For the energetic, you can take a tranquil cycling tour to explore the region.

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

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

“Nuits de Champagne” – Troyes

Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul cathedral – Troyes – © ATOUT FRANCE/CRT Champagne-Ardenne

Lucky folks in and around the Aube department in northeastern France will enjoy yet another spectacular lineup of music at the Nuits de Champagne.  Set in l’Aube capital of Troyes, the music festival has become a welcome October tradition and runs this year from October 23 to 29.

The 2011 Champagne Nights festival centers around Jean-Louis Aubert, the guest of honor of the 24th annual festival.  Aubert is an immensely popular French pop-rock star and outstanding guitarist who will combine his musical flair with the magnificent Dawn Chorus, comprised of 850 ‘amateur’ students from 26 colleges in the Department.

Aubert first performed at the festival in 2006 at the invitation of fellow artist Michel Delpech and followed suit by inviting his friends to participate in the 2011 program.  Bernard Lavilliers/Raphael,  Catherine Ringer and bluesman Paul Person will perform in the festival, bringing an exciting and diverse mix of music.

Aubert returns with his latest album, “Roc Flash”, seemingly a clear picture of his life, written and composed in Provence, after his father’s illness and death in Paris.  The album reflects his humanity, positive outlook and empathy for others.

The Grand Chorus

Set in the beautiful half-timbered city in the region renowned for producing elegant champagnes, the festival will assemble music lovers, a bit of bubbly and a good measure of local hospitality.

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


Great fares to Europe and beyond.

Absorbing the Charm of Chartres

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend in Troyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Day Trip to Beauvais

Astronomical clock in Beauvais cathedral. © ATOUT FRANCE/CRT Picardie/Sam Bellet

 

For some interesting moments and a pleasant change, take a quick train ride north from Paris to the city of Beauvais.  The capital of the Oise Department, Beauvais enjoys a beautiful setting at the foot of wooded hills and is surrounded by spacious pedestrian walkways.  Though the city suffered considerable destruction during World Wars I and II, some interesting discoveries remain and are highlighted by metal markers in the pavement that show the way.

Without question, the massive Cathedrale Saint-Pierre is a dramatic Gothic sight that will draw your eye and imagination.  The 14th-century Cathedral includes intricate wood carvings and vividly colorful stained- glass windows.  Said to be the largest of its kind (and oldest working chiming clock), the astronomical clock is a visual feast and was designed to signal the religious offices of each day. Elegant spires, soaring Gothic ceilings and detailed stonework make the Cathedral a quiet place to reflect on the maestros who dreamed of creating the tallest of its kind in the world.

While post-war reconstruction efforts don’t equal the charm of a traditional, old world town of France, Beauvais is clean and pleasant with a mix of medieval buildings, half-timbered houses and tree-lined neighborhoods.   The local textile museum invokes the importance Beauvais gained as a center for the textile industry, ultimately with their tapestry exports reaching as far as the Orient.  The town heroine is Jeanne Hachette who helped to save Beauvais from the assault of Charles le Temeraire in 1472.  Knit together these pieces of history, and you begin to understand the great local pride as one of France’s oldest cities.

For a pleasant local choice for lunch, stop in at Le Relais d’Alsace Beauvais; or if you visit on Wednesday or Saturday;  you’ll find the local market at place de Halles with excellent choices to pick up fresh meal items.  Otherwise, take your own picnic lunch, wander the streets and simply enjoy the city that residents have rebuilt to make their lives a pleasant, livable place in the shadow of the majestic cathedral.

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

 

 

Walk with Vincent Van Gogh

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

Just 17 miles northwest of Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise is a charming little commune on the banks of the Oise River, a ville that attracted Vincent van Gogh and several other famous Impressionist artists.  A pleasant day trip from Paris, you will find your journey centered more on mood and imagination than on history.  Catch the 10 a.m. direct train from Paris’ Gare du Nord, and in just 30 minutes you’ll be retracing the steps of Van Gogh to see the sights he painted in a whirl of artistic expression in the last two months of his life.

The tortured and talented artist moved to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Paul Gachet, though he felt the good doctor in a worse condition than his own.  Nonetheless, they were friends and, in an ironic twist of fate, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” brought nearly the highest auction price of all of his paintings. The artist was prolific in Auvers, where he produced many of his best-known works – The Church at Auvers, Thatched Cottages by a Hill, Wheat Field with Crows and more.

A couple of standard stops include the handsome Chateau d’Auvers that pays homage to Impressionist painters and the Absinthe Museum that evokes the mystique of the potent green liquid that was Van Gogh’s favorite.  To this day, rumors swirl about the so-called mind-altering spirit nicknamed “The Green Fairy.”  Even your visit to Van Gogh’s tiny attic is an understated experience, more in keeping with the bare solitude of an artist than an orchestrated emphasis on historic significance.

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

Van Gogh’s Hotel de Ville

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

 

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

Bar-le-Duc “Caviar”

Poised along the Ornain River

You will find yourself well off the beaten tourist path with a visit to Bar-Le-Duc, France, but a train trip from Paris makes for an interesting Renaissance experience.  Mix ancient charm with a beautiful landscape, and you have the essence of Bar-Le-Duc!  You can hop on one of the daily afternoon trains from the Gare l’Est and be in Bar-Le-Duc in less than 2 hours.  The newly refreshed 2-star Hotel Bertrand in the Marbeaumont area is just a 15-minute walk to the city center.

Set along the Ornain River and surrounded by forests, Bar-le-Duc is the proud administrative capital of the Meuse Department, set within the region of Lorraine.  Ask any local though, and you will see the chest swell with pride over its’ designation as the capital of Currant Jam – the “Caviar of Bar-Le-Duc”.  From the entrepreneurial ancestors of 1879 through the active family businesses of today, the delicacy continues to rain accolades on the ville – more about this delight later!

Le Château de Marbeaumont

Situated in a narrow valley, the Bar-Le-Duc landscape ranges from the serene Ornain River and Canal des Usines to the surrounding wooded hills.  Visitors enjoy the contrast of quaint bridges and riverside walks with the Renaissance charm of the ancient historic center.  So valued and preserved are the local sites, Bar-Le-Duc was designated a “City of Art and History in 2003.”

Visit the College Gilles de Treves, where the striking house and Renaissance courtyard sweep you back to the 16th century with balconies, ornate walls and mullioned windows.  Along sculptured boxes in the courtyard, you’ll find a wonderful inscription in Latin that translates – “That this house remains standing until the ant has drunk the waters of the sea and  the turtle has gone round the world.”

Wander through narrow lanes and staircases to Ducs de Bar and Bourg streets in the Ville Haute (Upper City).  The past ripples through the mansion-lined Place Saint-Pierre,  where the neighborhood of elegant homes dates to the 15th through 17th centuries. The sculptural details and intricate facades are among the architectural treasures that make Bar-Le-Duc so special.  The  Saint-Etienne church even includes a stone sculpture carved by a pupil of Michelangelo in the 15th century.

Bar-le-Duc’s “Caviar”

They say the delicacy of Bar-Le-Duc’s currant preserves (confiture de groseilles) even attracted royalty to the village in search of the treasured Lorraine jellies (Mary Stuart proclaimed it a “ray of sunshine”).  Only this village still uses the same complicated methods to produce the preserves, a craft passed from generation to generation.

The berries are painstakingly seeded by hand with a goose quill, a time-consuming process that adds to the jam’s considerable expense.  While two World Wars diminished the trade, the industry has once again begun to thrive.  Locals carefully scoop the delicate preserves over petite Madeleine tea cakes, ice cream or toast.  Outside of the village, the preserves are only available through gourmet food shops.

With your precious delicacies in hand, wander over the bridges in search of the perfect picnic spot by the water.  Or let that one special café or restaurant call to you.  The local eateries tend to be intimate spots just waiting for visitors to stop a while and enjoy their generous offerings of regional specialties – perhaps a Quiche Lorraine … or a dollop of ‘caviar’?

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

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

A Pleasant Day Trip to Auxerre

Auxerre's renowned half-timbered houses

 

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

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

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

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

Cathedrale Saint-Étienne

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

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

(Click to enlarge)

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

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

The Last Renaissance Château

Lavendar fills the air at the Chateau de Villandry (Click any photo to enlarge)

Imagine a cool May day in the gentle valley where the Rivers Loire and Cher meet.  After a leisurely two-hour drive from Paris, you arrive at one of France’s most cherished historic sites, the Château de Villandry and gardens.

Prepare to wander through a series of gardens that seem endless – herbs and vegetables, the sun and the love gardens, ornamental flower gardens, the water garden, lavender filling the eye with color and the air with its lovely scent.  It is simply one of the most beautiful places in France. 

Precisely manicured shrubs map the way for bursts of colorful flowers.  A children’s maze offers only a modest challenge to little folks, and an on-site restaurant allows you to rest a bit with regional cheeses, wine, sandwiches and refreshing salads.

This experience is possible largely due to the passion of a Spaniard by the name of Joachim Carvallo.  It’s an interesting story that began with Jean le Breton, a Finance Minister to François I.  Formerly the Ambassador to Italy, Le Breton spent considerable time studying gardens of the Italian Renaissance.  He razed all but a tower of the original 12th century castle on the site, and oversaw the building of the Villandry castle and gardens that were completed in 1526.  It would be the last of the large chateaux built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance.  Le Breton’s coat of arms is on the gable of the left dormer window, and the site remained in his family for over 225 years.  In 1754, a Provencal Marquis purchased Villandry and added the Classical outbuildings that flank the front courtyard.

Photo courtesy of Philippe Bidault des Chaumes

Voila!  Enter the Spanish doctor who came to study and participate in medical research in Paris.  He was to marry Ann Coleman, an American and the daughter of a Pennsylvania master blacksmith.  In 1905, Joaquin and Ann were able to indulge their passion for restoration and purchase their dream home – the castle of Villandry.   In fact, the doctor surrendered his brilliant medical career out of devotion to Villandry and saved the chateau from demolition.   

After becoming a French citizen, Doctor Carvallo served as a military doctor during the first Great War and converted part of his estate to a hospital for the wounded.  After the war, the restoration continued and expansive, beautiful gardens were added.  The good doctor founded the first association devoted to historic chateaux and pioneered the opening of historic buildings to the public.

Renaissance elegance

Today, we have this visionary family to thank for the pleasures of the chateau and gardens, one of the most visited in France, and now owned by Doctor Carvallo’s great grandson and entirely open to the public. 

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

Day Trip to Château d’Écouen

Overlooking the Ile-de-France Plain

The Château d’Écouen was the original home to Anne de Montmorency, the supreme commander of the French army and now, thankfully, serves as the Musée National de la Renaissance.  The mid 16th century château is refreshingly well preserved with many original ceilings, scenes painted on fireplaces, window and wall friezes and is one of the most beautiful châteaux from the Renaissance era.  Perhaps the most renowned exhibit is the beautiful Brussels tapestry, “David and Bethsheba”, that dates to 1515 and continues through three large galleries. 

The Chateau

Just 20km north of Paris, the Musée is well worth a pleasant day trip from the city to enjoy the impressive Renaissance collection.  For a distinctly different experience, approach on the quiet woodland path from the Forest of Ecouen to the back of the Chateau, where you’ll have sweeping views over Ile-de-France plain.

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

Moret-sur-Loing

The serene riverside at Moret-sur-Loing - Photo courtesy of Philippe Bidault des Chaumes

 

Perhaps we should create a new rule of thumb – if artists honor the beauty of a place in paintings, we must visit that site.  Moret-sur-Loing is a perfect example, perfectly situated at the edge of the forest of Fountainbleu along the banks of the Loring River.  It was an ideal setting for one of the great en plein air (outdoor) Impressionist artists, Alfred Sisley, who lived in the medieval village in the late 19th century. How easy it is to imagine him tucked under a graceful shade tree painting The Bridge at Moret-sur-Loing that now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  The Romanesque bridge is beautiful, as are the riverbanks, charming old watermill and medieval village. 

Just under an hour by train from Paris, Moret-sur-Loing is a must-do day trip to enjoy stepping back in time.  Wander along the narrow village lanes; look over the landscape from the bridge, where swans glide lazily along the river.  Enjoy a relaxing lunch at one of the village cafes or creperies – La Gavotte is a favorite on Avenue Jean Jaures .  Many of the high walls and towers built in the Middle Ages are still watching over the village today.

.

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

The Mystique of Fountainbleu

Magnificent Fountainbleu with horseshoe stairs to the Royal Apartments

While we drove to Fountainbleau, it’s a mere 45-minute train trip from the Gare de Lyon in Paris.  It is well worth the trip, as the town is charming and, at the edge of the forest, the Château magnificent – naturally so, as it was one of the favorite secluded retreats of French monarchs.  Napoleon called the Château  “the house of the centuries,” and in fact, it was from the lovely, curved exterior stairway (added in the 17th century in the shape of a horseshoe) that Napoleon spoke to his defeated  Grande Armée, before his exile to Elba. 

The stairs lead to the Royal Apartments, where French Kings took their comfortable leave from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.  In particular the grand Galerie of Francois 1st was designed in Renaissance style by Italian artists.  Just below the Royal Apartments, you discover the Holy Chapel.  Perhaps, you will visit at a time when singers burst into song from the chapel balcony, imagining themselves, one might think, of their participating in Napoleon’s baptism or Louis XV’s marriage.

 It is precisely those kernels of history that settle over you, that draw you to these magnificent sites, so rich and decisive in history.  

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

Le Pique-nique in the Forest

Our picnic canvas in the forest

Imagine a cool retreat in the ancient Yveline Forest, about an hour’s drive from Paris.  With a lush, forest floor of ferns and moss and graced with views to the valley below, our private Eden included, perhaps, minstrels from yore? 

Not far off.  Actors and performers in colorful costumes with just the right mix of ‘cheek’ and charm are among the 100-plus friends of our gracious hostess.   Balloon ‘art’, festive music, a communal canvas for the self-expression of guests to paint – all mix to create a troubadour camp in the forest kind of feeling. 

The experience?  Pure magique! Everyone contributed to the forest repast complete with plenty of wine and simple, heritage recipes to gourmet fare.

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