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A Clear Vision of France

Sylvie’s vineyard near Saint-Émilion

I originally wrote this after cataract surgery a couple of years ago – thus the “clever”, play-on-words title.  With no pun, though, I still enjoy very clear memories and ‘visions’ of France.

Paris … of course!  Wandering along the Seine, stopping to watch the bateau pass or the father and son snuggled together along the quai.  Finding the perfect sidewalk café for a warm coffee on a cool day.

Provence … those fields of lavender come immediately to mind … and cobbled lanes, charming shops, the bleat of sheep from our pique-nique spot.

Cote d’Azur … magnificent expanses of every imaginable shade of blue, parasol pines and red cliffs reaching into the sea.  No wonder writers, artists, rich and poor flocked to this grand arena of beauty!

The Alps … grand and glorious, bald in some areas, forested in others.  The sound of a cowbell on a lone, stray cow up the hill.  Flowers everywhere and tantalizing tartiflettes.

I comb through memories and photos, and the scenes instantly appear – the beauty, the calm, the color, the people – all of it. And always the natural sights appeal – those with water and mountains, rivers and vineyards – so inviting.

Wishing you a wonderful trip to France in the near future!

Seeing … and dipping my toes in the Medterranean!

Enjoying an afternoon along the Seine

Doing my Julie Andrews thing in the beautiful Alps

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Adventurous Driving in France

Overlooking Lac Saint-Croix and the Verdon Gorge

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

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

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

Hmm – What does that sign say?

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

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

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

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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!

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France – Water & Window Views!

Amboise France

Sunset picnic by the Loire

We have a tourism book from Aix-en-Provence that simply refers to the city as “Town of Water, Town of Art. Somehow that declaration of ‘who we are’ makes me reflect on my own persona. Perhaps I would be “Lady of Water, Lady of Windows”, as I am instantly drawn to water and thrive on windows and views.

Just writing that takes me away to so many moments in France … to the vivid blues of the Mediterranean – I remember the first moment I set my feet in those lovely waters and clasped my hands in wonder and delight. To the slow and lazy summer movement of the Loire River in Amboise, as we indulged in a wonderful, sunset picnic with friends. To Lake Annecy – so fresh, clear and cool beneath the mountain peaks in the background. To enchanting walks along the Saône River in Lyon, where so many Vieux Lyon restaurants whispered invitations to dine. To the deep blue water beyond the beaches of Normandy, where the sea-air filled our hotel room and multi-national flags waved in the breeze off the English Channel. And I haven’t even mentioned the Seine – all of those lovely walks and wine-and-cheese moments.

Lyon France

Along the Saone in Lyon

And window views, how readily they flow through my memory. Our second-floor vacation home bedroom opened onto the countryside near Château Chenonceau, where the whoosh of a hot-air balloon announced the ascent of gorgeous multi-colored balloons in the morning. And from our window in a charming chambre d’hote north of Bordeaux, we watched cows swishing their tails through the meadow grass. In Paris, high above rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile, we overlooked a playground filled with the sounds and sights of young children at play.

You would be surprised to know that I began this little article with thoughts of sharing yet another town I have discovered east of Bourges, partially an island and partially on the banks of the Seine. I guess that story will have to wait a couple of days. Wishing you a Bon Dimanche!

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

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Annecy: Magnificent Alpine City

Lake Annecy, France

View of Lake Annecy from the “Champs de Mars”

Annecy is simply breathtaking.  We snaked our way down a curving road to crystal-clear Lake Annecy set against a spectacular backdrop of Alpine peaks.

Once in the city, we looked over the lake from the shade of centuries-old trees in the “Champ de Mars” – a cool and inviting lakefront park and gathering place for residents and visitors.  The second largest lake in France … and the cleanest in Europe … Lake Annecy has been fed by small mountain rivers through the past 18,000 years.  With many restrictions and regulations, they are devoted to keeping it that way!

The turquoise lake spreads over 14 miles below the Tournette Mountain soaring in the background.  Boats dot the lake; tiny birds practice their diving skills, and lazy swans entertain visitors along the canals that lead to the lake.

The scene is one that begs you to simply sit for a while and watch the sailors and swimmers and folks lazing under the trees on a warm summer day.

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

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!

Three Savory French Cheeses – Délicieux!

French cheeses

Creamy Camembert originated in Normandy

Without a doubt all of us could enjoy a round-table discussion about all of the virtues and varieties of French cheeses.  Today, I share three of my favorite French creations that are elegant staples for almost any recipe or soirée.

French Brie is a natural starting point – the so-called “Le Roi des Fromages” (King of Cheese) in France.  This esteemed cheese won a championship nearly 200 years ago, and the title has remained intact.

Produced from creamy cow’s milk cheese that is soft ripened, Brie has enjoyed continuous adulation from the 8th century. The two Bries awarded AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) classification – Brie de Meux and Brie de Melun – are not permitted to be imported into the United States, because they are made from raw milk. (Notes about U.S. restrictions later!) Fortunately, we still are able to enjoy imported Bries with slight production variations. The creamy mild flavor is ideal for those of us who turn away from ultra-strong flavors.

French cheeses

Even Amazon offers gourmet cheese selections

I know a nice little wine bar that offers brie warmed with a touch of brown sugar and pecans and served with a small baguette and slices of apple. Très délicieux and one of our delectable favorites to serve at home!

Another soft-ripened cheese from Normandy, Camembert has been popular since the late 19th century. Sold in a quaint, round wooden box, the fragile cheese is well-protected in shipping and thus enjoyed around the world. Like Brie, it is an AOC-certified cheese made from raw milk that is adjusted for American importing. Camembert is slightly stronger than Brie but pairs just as well with nuts, bread and fruit.

Now we come to my all-time favorite, though that’s a stretch isn’t it – choosing one delicious cheese over another?  And that would be Gruyère de Comte,  a wonderful French Alpine cheese that is equally revered by the Swiss – who create their own version. Dating to the 12th century, Gruyère de Comte currently enjoys the highest production of all French cheese with AOC protection.

Again, a cow’s milk cheese (I seem to be quite partial to the bovine cheeses), it is pale ivory, semi-hard, formed in wheels and aged for about 12 months in mountain caves. The exceptional flavor tends to be sweet and nutty; though, as with all cheeses, can vary in taste according to the location, production techniques and time of year. Gruyère is absolutely the cheese of choice for many soufflés, gratins and fondues, but we also love it plain and simple with bread or fruit.

As I mentioned before, U.S. regulations affect the importing of French cheese, a slightly amusing fact given our ongoing recalls of everything from peanut butter to healthy, iron-rich spinach! C’est la vie! If you don’t have a good local market that carries premium French cheeses, go on line to familiarize yourself with gourmet cheese providers.  An exceptional source for learning about all types of cheeses by color, texture, country and more is

And by all means when you are in France, make it a point to shop in your neighborhood or market fromagerie – a heavenly experience!

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Seasonal Gifts of Val d’Isere

Stunning peaks of the French Alps 

The forthcoming winter season finds diehard skiers aching to attack some of the most challenging slopes in France.  If not the ultimate Grande Dame of the French Alps, Val d’Isere certainly deserves a royal nod.  Ideally located in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, the immensely popular ski area is just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Italian border among the most dramatic of all Alpine scenery.

Just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the peak of the Iseran pass, Val d’Isere is a mix of traditional Savoy architecture, modern neo-Chalet and high-rise apartments.  Buildings of wood, stone, metal and local stone reflect the natural landscape.  Some of the local, preserved homes combine weathered wood and slate roofs, while the past whispers through the 15th-center bell tower of St. Bernard de Menthon.  The church is the visual icon of the village, in distinct contrast to the high-tech ski shops that supply enthusiastic ski vacationers.

Be sure to take in the Monday marketplace to discover Savoie cheeses, sugared strawberries and other regional fare.  As you would expect in a traditionally cold mountain climate, the Savoyard cuisine is hearty enough to steel you against the elements.  The tartiflette and raclette make tasty potato and cheese dishes often accented by thick country ham slices or charcoal-roasted beef.

Though a prolonged autumn season has pushed the opening of ski season to December, international skiers will soon enter “Killy’s World,” the down-to-earth magnet for serious Alpine skiers.  As the birthplace of three-time Olympics winner Jean-Claude Killy, it hardly surprises you to discover a mecca of ski worship.  The area is simultaneously dubbed “l’Espace Killy” and the “Most Beautiful Ski Area in the World.”

Winter certainly isn’t the only season for enjoying the area.  Combine the “Grandes Alpes” Route with the inviting Vanoise National Park, and you understand the lure of the land in spring and summer.  Stretching from Menton in the south to Thonon Les Bains, the route spreads a kaleidoscope of scenes – vivid green valleys and flower-filled villages, steep hills sprinkled with bell-adorned cows, raw stone peaks and frigid glacial fields.

Hiking in Vanoise National Park – © ATOUT FRANCE/Hervé Le Gac

The magnificent Vanoise National Park Vanoise National Parc is a magnet for serious hikers, linking the Maurienne and Tarentaise valley.  The Maurienne and Isere rivers wind through the Park, and the terrain runs from rugged and harsh to quaint, undramatic valley villages around the region.

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

French Winter Olympic Notes

France Winter Olympics

Skiers at the highest skiable summit at the Courchevel alpine ski resort – ©Atout France /Jean François Tripelon-Jarry

Just a few interesting notes today about France, fashion and – bien sur – the Winter Olympics!  France last hosted the winter games in 1992, officially at Albertville.  Though the opening and closing ceremonies and some skating events took place there, many surrounding villages were the sites for the bulk of the competitions.

Among the village hosts were Courchevel, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Les Saisies, Méribel, Pralognan-la-Vanoise, Tignes and Val d’Isère – all rather spectacular locales in the breathtaking French Alps.  Long a stalwart participant and supporter of the Olympics, France also hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968 at Grenoble and at Chamonix in 1924.

A couple of historic events significantly affected the Albertville competitions.  A single team, for example, represented Germany; as East and West Germany were reunified in 1990.  The make-up of Russian athletic teams also changed, in that the Soviet Union had disbanded in 1991; and the USSR competed as a Unified Team.  This also was the last Winter Olympics to take place in the same year as the summer games.

If you watched the opening ceremonies, I’m sure you were not surprised to see the French team looking ever so chic!   The iconic Lacoste crocodile logo replaced the Adidas brand, as Lacoste became the official outfitter for the French team.  The company will continue to “dress” French Olympians through 2016 summer games to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

French Olympians

Chic French Lacoste uniforms

Much was made, and rightfully so, that United States uniforms in the last Olympics were manufactured in China.  Lacoste explains that their Olympic collection for the French team was designed in Paris and primarily manufactured in Troyes, France.

And, for those with a possible interest in Lacoste Olympic purchases, the designs will be available in French boutiques and in special shop with an Olympic emphasis in the flagship Lacoste store on the  Champs-Élysées.  Hmmm.  Shall we make a quick trip to the City of Light?

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

Luxury Dining in the Clouds

French Alps

Restaurant L’Oxalys


Imagine dining at ‘the top of the world’ in France. Well it might be a shade short of Utopia, but Restaurant Oxalys lays claim to being the highest gourmet restaurant in Europe. Fabulous cuisine, spectacular views! For the ‘full story’ – Restaurant L’Oxalys – Val Thorens.

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!

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

More Resources About France


South France

Wild horses – Camargue – © Atout France/Pascal Gréboval

If you haven’t checked out France Today, I encourage you to do so.  What?  Go to another site?  No vainglorious attempt here on France Daily Photo to keep you all for ourselves!   France Today and French Entrée recently have ‘eloped’ and offer an ever-widening truckload of information about French travel, culture, property for sale, cuisine … well, all of those interesting things we love to explore.

Regional articles cover a broad range of geographic sites.  We see inside the mystique of the Camargue in the South of France, where fleur de sel vies for attention with fine rice, and exotic black cattle and white horses ‘own’ the land.  It’s an unspoiled natural preserve, endangered only by the fervent tourists who visit. 

Eastern France

Le Doubs near the birthplace of Gustave Courbet – ©Atout France/CRT Franche-Comté/J. Lhommée

Swoop to the Jura Mountains in the East, and you immerse yourself in yet another natural, forested French landscape.  Just east of Switzerland and north of one our favorite areas around Lake Annecy, the Le Doubs department is home to enchanting villages, winding waterways and appealing historic sites.  France Today beautifully profiles everything from the UNESCO World Heritage site in Arc-et-Senans to the ancient houses of Ornans on the Loue River, birthplace of Gustave Courbet and fortunate repository of many of his artistic landscapes.  And in France, is it any wonder that an artist would be drawn to landscapes?

Not to dwell, I encourage you to visit France Today for a wealth of information and a very pleasant journey through the landscape, cuisine and culture of France.

We’d love to hear from you!

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



#1 Reason To Travel – Discovery

Bordeaux region, France

Cabane cabane de pêche au carrelet – Gironde

In the Bordeaux region, we first discovered the “cabane de pêche au carrelet” – fishing cabins on stilts raised above the Gironde River.  For us that was an unusual sight, because the only remotely similar buildings were fish camps firmly situated on the shores of rivers in the States.  With a little homework, the “discovery” was complete.  We learned that peasant fishermen in days of yore used these types of cabins for fishing. 

Today, they are popular for local and visiting fishermen, who suspend large, square nets from a winch into the water and scoop the catch with nets on a long pole.  The Gironde offers a feast of sturgeon, white shrimp, shad and lamprey.

Troglodyte caves were next.  We stayed for two weeks in the Loire Valley, where these cave-like homes are abundant.  In fact, walking up Victor Hugo toward the last home of Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise, we passed by cave dwellings tucked into ancient cliffs.  The cheerfully-inhabited troglodyte homes were adorned with flower boxes, brightly-colored shutters and stone alcoves that held their satellite dishes. 

Loire Valley France

On the way to da Vinci’s Amboise home

Some homes are actually built of the tuffeau stone, cut in blocks from the ancient cliffs above the Loire River. Quarrying of the tuffeau dates to the 11th century, when great cavities were created in the hills, when construction of the renowned chateaux took place throughout the valley.  People moved in to those spaces, finding them to be a low-cost refuge.  Now ‘owners’ dress them up to their own pleasure and convert them into their own vacation retreats and artist galleries.  Hard to imagine ‘owning’ a piece of ancient history!

And now we discover Alpine pile-dwelling settlements.  On the UNESCO World Heritage list, the settlements date to 5000 to 500 B.C., when ‘villages’ formed along the edges of lakes or wetlands.  Many of the sites are located in Switzerland; but in the Haute-Savoie Department of Rhône-Alpes, several prehistoric sites hug the shores of Lake Annecy. 

Near Lake Annecy, France

Original piles and reconstructed dwelling in Lac de Chalain, rive -© P. Pétrequin, Centre de la Recherches Archeologique de la Vallée de l’Ain

Important Archaeological evidence points to early agrarian societies in the region, where pile-dwellings have been discovered under water, on lake shores and along rivers.  Flint, shells, gold, and pottery reveal the existence of trade routes, and old textiles date to 3,000 B.C.   Along the western shores of Lake Annecy, the communes of Sévrier and Saint-Jorioz  are home to Neolithic finds.  In 1989 over 700 piles were counted. 

Our memories of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley and Lake Annecy are filled with stunning images – riverbank wedding ceremonies, Amboise markets and the crystal Alpine waters of Lake Annecy.  Then, we add the discoveries of ancient settlements and medieval chateaux – it’s simply a fascinating journey that combines spectacular natural beauty and ancient history with the welcoming hospitality that travelers can enjoy.

We’d love to hear from you!

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


Pitfalls of Alpes Maritimes Driving

Alppes Maritimes

Quite the curves along La Route!

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

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

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

France driving

My sketch of near disaster!

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

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

Jean-Luc in Hauterives

Hauterives France

Palais du Factor Cheval

Sometimes odd things come together, like stray thoughts that wander around until they find a common place to settle. And so it was today, when I was thinking about Jean-Luc Ponty. Mind you, his name, his music may come to mind two or three times a year, but today I wondered about his concert schedule. Several years ago he performed in St. Petersburg, Florida. Who knows? Maybe Florida is on his agenda again.

For those unfamiliar with him, Jean-Luc is an unparalleled master of the violin, particularly parlaying his talent in the jazz and rock arenas. Lively, innovative, Ponty’s music is full of energy and surprises – not the sedately sweet sounds you normally associate with the violin.

He comes by his talent quite naturally, born to classical musicians in Avranches, France in 1942. He was only 16, when he was admitted to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris and graduated in two years with the conservatory’s highest award. Later, the influences of Miles Davis and John Coltrane fueled his interest in jazz.

Given his French roots, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see he would perform in France in June. Paris? Lyon? Saint-Tropez? No. He will perform in a most unusual setting in Hauterives – at the Palais du Factor Cheval. In the learn-something-new-every-day vein, I admit to having no idea about the location of the village or the plays.

Voila! You have to love the ease of access to information on the internet! Hauterives is a commune south of Lyon in the Drôme department. The palais was the life work of a rural postman – Ferdinand Cheval – who was appointed to serve the village of Hauterives in 1869. For 33 years, he spent evening after evening crafting a fantasy-like palace in his own back yard – in his vegetable garden, to be precise. Art historians liken his work to illustrations of naïve architecture, entirely original and surreal. The Ideal Palace was classified as a historical monument in the late 1960’s.

And so it is in this particular setting that two creative minds come together – the works of the rural postman and the eclectic violin music of Jean-Luc Ponty. We would love to be there for that unusual performance!

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Hearty Tartiflette for Cold Days

Yesterday the weather was raw in Florida – a grey, misty day with a chill that settled in the bones. And isn’t that exactly when you need one of those après-ski tartiflettes that are revered in the Alps? There’s nothing quite like the mix of hearty potatoes, cheese and lardons to satisfy hunger and soul!

Haute-Savoie region of France

Creamy & nutty Reblochon

My most memorable tartiflette was served to my friend and me by a film director from the Alsace region. I’m not sure his films have reached the perfection of that meal – a creamy tartiflette, a light vinaigrette salad and dry white wine served to us in Baccarat glasses. Mind you, this was not dining in a ‘manoir’, rather a small, two-room apartment in the Marais that was his ‘while-I’m-in-the-city’ crash pad. Yet, the evening, the meal, the music and convivial conversation are sealed forever in my memory.

So, let’s move on to the tartiflette – its’ ingredients and, as important, where to find them. Mind you, this isn’t meant to be a ‘lesson’ a la Julia Child but a guide to the simplicity of this irresistible dish.

The basics include white potatoes, onion, smoked bacon (try Canadian bacon), crème fraiche and Reblochon cheese. In the states, you should be able to find the crème fraiche in an upscale grocery or organic-style food store.As to the Reblochon – originating from the Haute-Savoie region of France, you might have to search a bit farther. For one thing, it can no longer be imported into the U.S. On igourmet, I found “Le Delice du Jura – Reblochon-style Tomme” described as the closest to the ‘real deal’ with a creamy texture, nutty after taste and delicate herbal aroma. They also carry crème fraiche, if you can’t find it in your area.

Haute-Savoie France

Beautifully browned tartiflette

You simply peel, boil and drain the potatoes. Slice and sauté the onion, adding crumbled pieces of the smoked bacon. Butter a gratin dish, cut the potatoes in thick slices and place half of them in the bottom of the dish. Top with half the onion and bacon and repeat with another layer of potatoes, onion and bacon. Some recommend adding a glass of dry white wine, but I always suggest two glasses – one for the tartiflette and one for the chef!

Spread crème fraiche over the mixture and top with slices of Reblochon. Bake in a hot oven – 400 degrees – until browned and bubbling. I’ll leave it to you to discover your own favorite recipe, but rest assured that you will be delighted with the delicious mix of tartiflette ingredients.

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The Liberation of the Franche-Comté Region

Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial in eastern France

Epinal American Cemetery in eastern France

East of Dijon, the Franche-Comté region of France combines low valley farmland with the Jura Mountains, as the area stretches toward Switzerland.  For the most part, narrow roads and small communes dot the landscape, and the Doubs River takes a picturesque course through the countryside, inviting river cruises and intense fisherman to enjoy her bounty.  This time of year, neat stacks of firewood by every home signal the coming winter.

September also is a time of somber celebration.  Nearly 70 years ago, Allied troops swooped from the south to free eastern France.  Among the many historic stories surrounding World War II, there is a small “footnote” for the commune of Sauvagney.  But that is the way of all epic tales, isn’t it?  Whether metropolis or a hamlet, liberation unshackles and offers new life to an entire populace.

On September 9, 1944, a company of American soldiers were on the road to Belfort, when the sound of German machine guns cut through the meadows from the woods.  After the fighting, two soldiers from the 141st Infantry Regiment had died.  They had sacrificed their lives for the liberation of this village of 150.  With the blessing of the Regiment’s Commanding Officer, the Sauvagney residents built coffins for Edwin J. Morgan and John Kreiner and held a Christian burial ceremony before interring the men in the church cemetery.

A reporter from the Baltimore Sun remembered Kreiner’s sacrifice in a poignant piece he wrote in 1998.

Lac des Brenets, Franche-Comté

Lac des Brenets, Jura Mountains

“SOMEWHERE today they’re remembering Private Kreiner. It’s a distant somewhere, a speck of a place in a valley in France. You could speak the name Kreiner there, and an old man named Henri Ducret would break into the long story of the Germans and the war, the years of occupation and the day of liberation, and he’ll describe the body of Private Kreiner being carried to the churchyard.”  It was Henri who dug the graves, his little sisters who placed flower on their coffins.

Throughout the area, villages and cities are remembering those sacrifices; as one after another was liberated by the Allies in early September.  Some will gather at the United States military cemetery at Epinal.  In Sauvagney, no doubt the citizens will stand before the monument they erected in 1994 to honor two fallen heroes.

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A Sunday Visit to Mercantour

parc-mercantour-allos lake France

Allos Lke in Parc Mercantour – an ideal Sunday outing

Wouldn’t it be a perfect Sunday adventure to visit Mercantour National Park?   Let’s take a leisurely hike to Allos Lake.  Formed from the thaw of glaciers and melting snow, it is the largest high altitude mountain lake in Europe.  In the heart of earth, wind and water, we relish alpine flowers and enjoy nature’s playground.

We are in the upper Verdon valley, between the Mediterranean and the Alps, in a park that contains over 54 square kilometers (21 square miles) of lakes, summits and gorges.  Will we see the green lizard of the Mediterranean or spot a deer?


The Mercantour is such a splendid protected treasure, that a few rules maintain the sanctity of the area:

•       No dogs even on lead

•       No gathering or camping

•       No litter or fire

•       No mountain bikes or vehicles

While the rules offer continued protection to the magnificent Mercantour Park; they also allow us to savor nature without the unabated zeal of visitors.  A wonderful Sunday outing, wouldn’t you say?

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Tour de France Win for France

Jura Mountains, eastern France

Beautiful mountain views in eastern France

This is a day of considerable celebration for France. The young 22-year-old Thibaut Pinot won the 8th stage of the 2012 Tour de France, as he crossed the line first in Porrentruy, Switzerland. The race began in Belfort France and covered 157.5 kilometers (98.5 miles) of the rugged terrain of the Jura Mountains in eastern France. Naturally the coach and team members of the French AG2R La Mondiale team celebrate the victory of their teammate.

Fête de la Transhumance, Castellane

Sheep in Castellane for the Fete de Transhumance, France

Sheep sans their 'coats' in Castellane

Castellane once again hosted its lively Fête de la Transhumance from the 15th to the 17th of June, casting an educational spotlight on the extraordinary heritage and landscapes of the village and the Verdon Regional Natural Park.   Festivities included nature walks, picnics and presentations; celebrations of the Provence Alps and colorful games for all ages.  A delightful traditional Occitan folk dance workshop prepared everyone for the real party, when dance troupes gathered in the early evening at Place Marcel Sauvaire.

Sunday began with the day-long Farmer’s Market and a veritable feast of regional products, but the real highlight unfolded after the late morning Church of the Sacred Heart Mass and Procession.  That’s when the blessing of the flock took place in the sheep pen near the Pont du Roc, and the sheep were shepherded through the village.  In keeping with the celebration, restaurants offered “meals of shepherds” specials.

Ongoing traditions are an important part of French culture, as natives revere and celebrate centuries old customs.  If a trip to France is on tap for you this summer, be sure to look up the events to be held in the areas you will visit.  Festivals take place throughout the country in the summer, and you may want to plan your calendar around them.

Castellane Festival of Transhumance with dance and shepherding of sheep
Traditions of the Fete de Transhumance

Paris, for example hosts the incredible Fête de la Musique on the June 21 summer solstice, when every conceivable music style plays out in venues all over the City of Light.  First launched in Paris 50 years ago, the festivals now have taken root in cities throughout the world; when free concerts pay homage to music old and new.  But those events demand a special posting of their own – stay tuned!

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Relaxing in Haute Savoie

Auberge de Pere Bise - Annecy France

Auberge de Pere Bise – Annecy France

Extending the fanciful dream of our extended weekend in Haute Savoie.  Perhaps we’ll take the water taxi today to Annecy.  We’ll revisit the lakeside park and watch the swans along the canal.  After a hearty Savoyard lunch, we’ll taxi back to the auberge and settle in to lakeside chaises.  Can you imagine anything more refreshing?

We hope you enjoy your Sunday, whether lakeside or with feet firmly on land.

By the Shores of Lake Annecy

Relaxing at Auberge du Pere Bise, Annecy France

Relaxing at Auberge du Pere Bise, Annecy

I’m ready to spirit away to a magical place, far from keyboards and cell phones, steeped in beauty and refinement.  Rest.  Relaxation.  Restoration.  Please come along – you are most welcome!

Once again I have to admit to a touch of snobbery….or is it simply an exacting sense of my own style?  Je ne sais pas!  I can appreciate the distinct beauty and passion of a restored castle, but I prefer more intimate surroundings sans massive stone fireplaces and tiny windows.  So for this trip to the shores of Lake Annecy, we shall choose to stay in a lovely inn – The Auberge du Père Bise in Talloires.  Our pleasant suite will overlook the turquoise waters of the lake to greet us each morning, as we drink fresh orange juice and taste of buttery croissants.

The beauty of this region is almost absurd – how can a singular region dare to hoard so much that is lovely and serene?  Among the purest of European waters, Lake Annecy stretches for miles beneath the watchful eyes of the Rhone Alps, a sight that captured the imagination of Paul Cézanne in his painting “The Lake of Annecy”.

A delightful gourmet meal overlooking Lake Annecy France
A delightful gourmet meal overlooking Lake Annecy

The 100-year-old inn shall be our base for enjoying the area with cycling, horseback riding, canoe rides and peaceful strolls through the surrounding hills.  Before a gourmet dinner under the expert direction of chef Sophie Bise, we shall stretch out on a chaise by the lakeside to enjoy a cool, refreshing glass of rosé.  The culinary traditions of the Bise family stretch back to 1901, and the famed restaurant and inn have drawn many ‘royals’, from Charlie Chaplin and Brigette Bardot to Winston Churchill and President Richard Nixon – and, of course, Queen Elizabeth.

We only stayed one night in Annecy during our last visit, so we shall enjoy one of our dreamed of ‘do-overs’ and spend at least an extended weekend in this Alpine paradise.


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Yvoire – Your Lakeside Retreat

An enchanting lakeside retreat

Sometimes we want to leave the city behind to find a quiet retreat for a couple of days.  On the shores of Lake Geneva in the Rhône-Alpes region; Yvoire is just such a place, ideal for a visit in late spring, before the summer crowds descend.  Over 700 years old, the village blends medieval stone houses, narrow winding streets and serene lakeside views.

Villa Cécile is the model base for your stay, an inviting spa hotel tucked in the woods above the lake.  After a pleasant continental breakfast, wander along the lanes through the village – designated, by the way, one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”.

You’ll discover a blend of old and new, from the bell-turret of Saint Pancrace Church, Savoyard religious architecture and medieval  gates to the yacht marina and restaurants overlooking Lac Leman.  It’s just the sort of setting that calls for a relaxed, wandering nature, visiting galleries, stopping in gardens, taking lunch by the lake, and perhaps cruising by a paddle-steamer to discover French and Swiss lakeside towns.

Medieval gates and abundant flowers

At the turn of the century, Yvoire was an unassuming little fishing village, originally fortified by Amédée V the Great, Count of Savoy.  Now, village pride showers the town with wisteria and geranium, with colorful bouquets lining lanes of stone houses and wooden balconies.

In the village center, the Garden of the Five Senses offers a pleasant experience.  The castle’s former garden has been transformed in medieval style to include a labyrinth filled with colors, scents, sounds and textures – definitely a place to absorb the beauty and set aside the pressures and projects of your day-to-day life.

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France? Switzerland? Where Are We?

Fountain in Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Yes, we are called France Daily Photo, but here we have a picture of Geneva, Switzerland.  We’re not exactly “splitting hairs”, because Geneva is surrounded by France on three sides.  It took little effort and an “entry road tax” to slip from France into Geneva.  In some areas of the city, you need only cross the street to go from Switzerland to France.

And then there is the village of Saint-Gingolph, tidily split down the middle between France and Switzerland near the end of Lac Leman – rather like Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.  By boat or road, the village can make an interesting Sunday visit with lunch in France and dinner in Switzerland.  How exotic!


Hoping you enjoy an adventurous Sunday!


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Hôtel Cour des Loges – Bienvenue!

Elegant dining at Cour des Loges

Nothing quite imprints the distinct feeling of history like staying in the former mansion of an Italian silk merchant.  Tucked discreetly along the cobbled lanes of Vieux Lyon, Hôtel Cour des Loges offers exactly that experience.  You feel as if the old merchant’s staff welcomes you, but alas – they are contemporary concierges well schooled in warm, refined hospitality (as you might expect of a 4-star luxury hotel).

Every glance through the hotel, from the arched reception and dining rooms to your own handsomely outfitted boudoir provides an agreeable blend of antique and contemporary.  The hotel actually is a complex of 14th to 17th-century buildings that encircle a glass-covered courtyard.

After checking in, ask your concierge about nearby “traboules” to explore.  The passageways first were used by workers in the silk industry and later by members of the Resistance to evade capture by the occupying Germans.  They weave through the old city with a mystique of their own, hiding the stories of long ago.

About the traboules (click to enlarge)

Our friend provided an after-dinner tour, pushing open a door here and there, that appeared to be the entrance to a home or apartment. We followed him along silent corridors, around corners and through other doors, only to exit a few streets away.

You will want to enjoy a memorable dinner at the hotel’s Café-Épicerie, a restaurant that artfully mixes contemporary décor with stone walls, graceful arches and silk tapestries.  Our excellent waiter guided our menu choices and scooped fresh parmesan from a large cheese wheel to accent our selections.  The experience reminded us that dining is not eating.

Merci garçon!

After a restful night, head to the interior courtyard for a delicious breakfast buffet.  We look around the upper and lower arches imagining the life of the original owner and his family in Renaissance France.  You cannot fail to absorb the ancient life, the stories and history of this unique Lyon dwelling.  The hotel serves as a wonderful anchor, after wandering up the hills and by the rivers of this remarkable city.

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Lakeside Fun in Annecy

Boats take to Lake Annecy for days of summer fun

Since some of you undoubtedly are experiencing wintry weather, I thought a pleasant, sunny photo of Lake Annecy might bring a smile to your face.  If we were there today, we’d take a walk through the park overlooking the lake and stop to watch the swans gliding through the canal.  After that, a wonderful Savoyarde meal would be in order – perhaps a creamy tartiflette! Have a wonderful Sunday wherever you are, whatever the weather.



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Chambéry Blends History and Beauty

Fontaine des Elephants - Chambery

From Annecy, one of our favorite towns in eastern France, we take a day trip to discover another jewel – Chambéry.   The pretty mountain town is the historic capital of Savoie and enjoys a pleasant blend of quiet pedestrian streets, handsome mansions and a proud heritage.  Excellent road networks make travel to and from the town easy, with Grenoble, Annecy and Albertville within a 30-minute drive.  Lyon, Geneva and the Italian border are only an hour away.

Chambéry’s location between the Jura and the Alps mountains and adjacent to gorgeous lakes is equally picturesque and ideal for summer and winter outdoor activities.  The city also is the gateway to the Vanoise, Chartreuse and the Bauges parks, adding more choices for recreation.

We choose to head for the heart of old town around Place Saint Léger to enjoy a quiet stroll by the grand mansions along rue Croix d’Or, each with intriguing architecture, quiet courtyards and charming fountains.  The most famous landmark in the city is the seemingly misplaced Fontaine des Elephants (Elephants Fontaine).  The fountain honors the Comte de Boigne, who shared much of his wealth (derived from India, thus the elephants) with the city.  In fact the uniformed figure at the top is a statue of General Benoît de Boigne, a prominent adventurer in India, general to a maharajah and protector of the Taj Mahal.  It is not surprising that his storied life and generosity to Chambéry would result in this unique monument.

Chateau des Ducs de Savoie

The Charmettes Museum makes another interesting stop, formerly the country house of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the mid 18th century.  In 2012, the museum will mark the 300th anniversary of Rousseau’s birth.  One delightful feature of the Charmettes is the typical French garden with herbs, fruit trees and vegetables – a garden that reflects the writer’s affinity for botany.

We pick a lovely shaded table for lunch at the Restaurant le Réverbère right across from the Chateau des Ducs de Savoie, its’ imposing beauty the perfect backdrop to our Savoyard meal – a delicious tartiflette with salad.  Mountain folks know how to satisfy the hunger that comes from hiking in summer or skiing in winter.

Before returning to Annecy, we detour a bit for a drive along Lac Bourget.  There are many places to stop, park and walk along the lake.  The scenery and silence is magnificent, with clouds brushing mountain peaks across the lake and little wavelets lapping at the shore.  Pure perfection that restores peace of mind and erases any worldly worries!

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The Spa Town of Aix-les-Bains

By Lac du Bourget, 12th-century Hautecombe Abbey- © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

Spa towns are a bit like musicals – they move in and out of favor, according to the fickle leanings of society.  The healing water generation gives way to the take-an-aspirin-and-go-hiking mindset.  Health remedies aside, what never fails to attract is raw beauty, and Aix-les-Bains has plenty of that to offer.  Make no mistake – your visit to Aix should be entirely focused on embracing and enjoying one of the most beautiful regions of France.

Set between the Alps and the Jura mountains, Aix-les-Bains hugs the eastern shore of Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake in France.  The ideal combination of water and mountains creates a Mediterranean-like microclimate, allowing for abundant flowers and trees and softening the chill of winter.  The year-round views of snow-capped peaks are breathtaking, pushing your imagination from thoroughly abandoned skiing to leisurely cycling along the lakeside promenade.  Lac du Bourget saturates every vista and offers an endless supply of active water sports, lazy cruises or Zen-like relaxation.

Thousands come to Aix every year to enjoy lush parks, Roman statuary, open-air concerts or a simple game of chess in the square.  Of course many still come for the “cure” partaking in the sizzling waters of Thermes d’Aix-les-Bains, founded by the King of Sardinia and favored by Queen Victoria.  Since she reigned England longer than any other – 64 years – perhaps the waters do encourage prolonged health!

One visitor amusingly described central Aix-les-Bains as a “curious spa mix of sickness and celebration.”  It’s an apt description of many spa towns, where thermal waters soothe the body and casino-hopping pumps the spirit.

La Chapelle du Mont du Chat – © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

Worth noting, the Hautecombe Abbey, set high above the lake, enjoys a simply stunning location.  For centuries the abbey has been the burial place of the Counts and Dukes of Savoy, though the various religious orders have changed through the years.  It is said that the monks finally moved away in 1992 – to dodge the tourists?

Established by the Environment Ministry, the Maison du Lac is a freshwater aquarium- the largest in France.  The French enacted numerous strict environmental standards, when the Alpine lakes were threatened, and the results have been rewarding.  The aquarium serves to promote the protection and management of a natural aquatic environment to the general public.

The lovely old Hotel Le Manoir is a delightful choice of lodging, rather like an old country house with charming balconies and shaded setting.  Complete with full spa facilities and a fine restaurant, the hotel is classified as a “Relais de Silence” – the ideal choice for a relaxing holiday.
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The Forests of France

Ultimately the donkeys take to the shade of the Loire forest in the heat of summer

Some of the most beautiful natural gifts in the French landscape are the country’s abundant forests.  They spread from the Midi-Pyrénées to Alsace – Lorraine, from Aquitaine to the Rhône-Alpes.  Many of the splendid castles, like Chenonceau, Chambord and Versailles are set in scenic, wooded grounds with centuries-old trees.  We have wandered beneath towering trees by the Loire River, only to hear the soft whisper of the leaves moving slightly in the wind.  And we have seen the trails through the forests that linked one castle to another.

But it was another sight in Aquitaine that really stopped us in our tracks.  We drove along a little country road and rounded the bend to an astonishing scene.  Acres of trees spread like lifeless toothpicks across the landscape, an ugly scar in a region otherwise filled with beautiful trees and sunflower fields.  Later, we learned the reason for the devastation.

On December 26th and 27th in 1999, two cataclysmic storms ripped across France from the Île de Ré to the Alps, extending beyond French borders to Germany, Switzerland and Italy and causing damage as well in Portugal and Spain. The Lothar and Martin storms cut a swath of destruction, with 150 mile-per-hour winds, tearing through woodlands and villages and destroying about 4 percent of the forests of France.

Stripped and snapped before cyclonic winds

In Paris alone, two famous forested parks – the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes – each lost a third of their trees.  National monuments suffered damage in France and Italy, including the palace at Versailles, Notre Dame and Rome’s Campidoglio town hall.  Of the 140 victims who died in the storms, floods and avalanches; 88 were French.

Fortunately, contemporary reforestation policies contribute to the continued growth and diversity of forests in France, with various oak, conifers, chestnuts, pines and other varieties making up forests that cover about 28 percent of the land.  We saw the mutilated landscape nearly six years after the original damage occurred, a fact that was not lost on us.  It takes so many years for natural beauty to flourish, and so little time for those years to be erased.

[Reminder – click on photos to enlarge.]
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Haut Savoie and Reblochon

Delightful cow art - Haut Savoie

Generally, when you think of the Rhône-Alpes and the northernmost Haut Savoie region, images of jet-set skiing and posh resorts come to mind.  I’ve a different image to present.  Instead of trendy getaways for the rich and royals, let’s take a look today at cows.  Yes – cows.

The Haut Savoie has sparkling destinations like Annecy, Mont Blanc and the prime ski destinations of Chamonix and Courchevel; but we stayed a couple of nights in the Le Grand Bornand area.  Though we heard the ring of a cow bell on a quiet Alpine lane, we had no idea at the time that cows outnumber people in the region.  Yes – cows.

In the summer, over 2,000 cows graze on the upper slopes, while farmers gather hay from the valley meadows to dry and store for the long, snowy days of winter.  Twice daily milking bears exceptional “fruit” for the farmers – the rich Reblochon cheese for which Haut Savoie is known.  The cheese is AOC stamped, as carefully tended to as premiere French wines, and is a cherished staple of Savoyard cuisine.

There’s some interesting history to this bovine business.  As far back as the Middle Ages, farmers paid their taxes with milk they produced.  Today, the farmers age Reblochon in cellars or mountain caves, turning the cheese every two days and washing with whey to speed the aging process.  Since 1795, the Reblochon Market has taken place in the Grand-Bornand village every Wednesday morning; where honey, meats and jam vie with the popular cheese in the farmers’ stalls.

The cheese factory!

The Savoyard cuisine delivers hearty ‘stick-to-the-ribs’ dishes for mountain appetites – Reblochon heated and scraped over baked potatoes or savory tartiflettes with farmhouse Reblochon, crème fraîche and a few enhancing spices.  And everywhere there is “cow art”, delightful creations of wrought iron or glazed pottery.


We ended a day of Alpine wandering at a nice pizzeria in the Grand-Bornand Village.  A young couple by an open window next to our terrace table was sharing a fondue dish, and we offered to take their photo.  We struck up a conversation – yes a mix of English and French – with Brigette and Daniel.  They were very affable and understanding of broken French; and as we enthused about France and the French, we realized that the whole restaurant was listening to our conversation.  I guess it isn’t every day that Americans profess their love of France.

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The French Alps – Magnificent!

The ideal site for an Alpine pique-nique

After a continental breakfast at our gite in Chinaillon, we decided to devote the day to wandering in the French Alps.  And experience the Alps, we did, overlooking Alpine villages and winding through flower-swept lanes.  Climbing through forests to grand, prehistoric glacial peaks and through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Aosta, Italy.

There, beside a cold, rushing stream, we relish a picnic in the shade of evergreens.  It is seared in our memory – all is quiet save the sound of water, and the mountains are framed by a vivid blue sky.

Alas, we must head back to our ‘home’ in Chinaillon.  We zigzag – literally – up the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard, feeling as if God is our co-pilot or, rather, hoping he is.  It wouldn’t do to pass a large vehicle on this small road.

We stop at the only place within miles – Ristorante lo Riondet.  We ask for “Deux cafés, s’il vous plait.”  The young man smiled and said, “No.  Italy.  Cappucinos.”  So we took our cappuccinos outside to look over a “Sound of Music” mountain scene – treeless, green, peaks in the distance, quiet.  It is if we are at the top of the world, a very beautiful world.





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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.
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Route Napoléon to Gap

The citadel rises from the cliffs in Sisteron


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

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

An interesting bend in the road!

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

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

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

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

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Gap to Welcome Tour de France

The compelling beauty of the French Alps

The Tour de France soon enters its final week and will head from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Gap on Tuesday, July 19.  The city is in the Southern Alps on the famous Route Napoléon, and is a magnet in the summertime for mountain hikers and cyclists.  We strolled through Gap’s colorful squares and charming pedestrian lanes, shopped in boutiques and sat for a while by the fountain at Place de la Republique.  But the Hautes Alpes “called our name”, and we headed north for our introduction to the French Alps. 

We were simply stunned by the landscape, the quiet countryside, pure air and soaring Alpine beauty.  We stopped at a little open-air café for coffee and looked out over lush fertile valleys, perfectly framed by the mountains.

Certainly the Tour de France cyclists will have their work cut out for them, as they attack the Alps; but they couldn’t have a more beautiful landscape in which to stage their challenge.

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Annecy’s Lively Waterfront

Boating on Lake Annecy – a popular choice!

In cities and villages throughout France, it’s always a good idea to get your bearings with a stop at the Office de Tourisme for helpful maps, scheduled events and information about water taxis and tours, hiking destinations and local attractions.  In Annecy, we learned about the many waterfront activities available from beachfront swimming in the cool, Alpine lake to boat excursions, paddle boat and catamaran rentals.  Water taxis drop off at different points along the lake, so you can hop aboard and go for lunch across from Annecy to the village of Taillures.  Le Cottage Bise is a popular choice for mouthwatering grilled trout or any number of other classic French dishes.  You’ll especially enjoy dining on the terrace with panoramic views of Lake Annecy.

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Mont Blanc in the French Alps

The sparkling glacial fields of the French Alps

This is the stunning vista, as we emerge from the Mont Blanc Tunnel that connects France and Italy.  The journey through the tunnel itself is interesting with long queues, as you approach the entrance.  A devastating fire in 1999 killed 39 people and brought about sweeping improvements in safety,  not the least of which is the careful monitoring and spacing of trucks entering the tunnel. 

It is a remarkable contrast to ease through 7 ½-miles of tunnel to emerge in Italy’s Aosta Valley.  The glacial fields glisten in the summer sun; while cold, rushing streams thread their way down to the valley.   It’s the perfect place for a little picnic by a pure Alpine stream.  We lounge for a while with cheese, bread and fruit, watching a young boy skip stones through the water, while his mother looks on from the shade.  The magnificence of the Alps is absolutely humbling, and it is a memory that will return over and over again.

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Village in the French Alps

Quaint village and spectacular views

We make our way east of Annecy to Le Chinaillon, a petite, friendly village in the French Alps.  The entire area is a popular ski resort in winter and attracts summer visitors for some spectacular mountain hiking. 

In fact, we can step through the door of our pleasant “gite” (guest house) and walk up the hill behind us or down past the little chapel to the village below.  We especially enjoy driving from one village to another, where summer flowers dress each town in a contest to outdo one another.

At one point, we stop at a quiet spot overlooking beautiful rolling valleys.  On the hill behind us, only the sound of a cowbell rings through the air.

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