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Sunday Brunch at La Mère Poulard

Airy omelets in the making

Just finished brunch on this lovely, if warm, Sunday.  In looking back through France Daily Photo archives, I come across this petite jewel – a reminiscence of a rainy but enchanting brunch in the North of France. Hope you enjoy the ‘memory trip’, as you relax this Sunday.

Once again, it is perhaps time for a Sunday adventure.  Shall we go for an elaborate lunch on Mont Saint-Michel?  Yes, time to climb the stairs to the rather elegant dining room at La Mère Poulard, but don’t forget to stop by the entry to see those fluffy omelets being prepared.

When Mont Saint-Michel opened its cloistered doors to the world in 1872, Annette Poulard was just twenty.  She and her husband opened their inn and restaurant in 1888, and their hospitality has been non-stop since, offering rest and fabulous meals to travelers.

After lunch, we’ll stroll through the village streets and look over the magnificent sea.  That’s exactly what we did, but I hasten to add that rain had swept in from the sea limiting vistas and the endurance that might otherwise have allowed thorough discovery.  C’est la vie!  Still an indelible experience!

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

 

Two Unique Paths – Cézanne & Verne

musee-jules-verne-jules-verne-museum-Nantes France

The Jules Verne in Nantes

A little musing today about famous French men who followed their own dreams.  I suppose parents run the gamut in guiding their children in career directions.  The child’s interest.  Financial rewards.  Respected professions.  Family traditions.  Two renowned French men (among many others, I’m sure) disregarded their fathers’ guidance to seek entirely different career paths than those desired by well-intentioned Dad.

Paul Cézanne, for example, initially followed his doctor father’s wishes by attending the University of Aix law school from 1859 to 1861, but he also continued with drawing lessons. Ultimately, with the encouragement of his friend Emile Zola, Cézanne left Aix-en-Provence in 1861 to pursue painting in Paris. His prolific body of work casts an affirmative final vote in favor of the son’s interests and wishes.

Who else chose to turn his back on father’s plan for his life? Like Napoleon, his name appears everywhere in France, on streets and museums, on statues and restaurants. And that man is Jules Verne, the renowned French writer, who pioneered the science fiction genre.  Many of Verne’s traveler tales included inventions considered far ahead of his time. Through his life of writing, he completed 54 major novels about life in the future.

Verne’s fascination with the sea began early in the sea port of Nantes, where he was born. Though he later was caught and returned, he even ran away at one point to be a cabin boy on a merchant ship. Bowing to his father’s vision, Jules Verne studied law in Paris, where he also discovered theatre. After finding that his son had published a play and left his legal studies, his father cut him off and forced Verne to earn his way by selling his written works.

After intense study in geology, engineering and astronomy; Verne expanded on the inventions he had seen and imagined future inventions. In his novels, he created a world that really would not come to fruition until the twentieth century.

La Maison_de_jules_verne, Amiens France

Jules Verne’s home in Amiens, 1882-1900

He introduced the idea of long voyages by air in his first novel (1863), “Five Weeks in a Balloon”.  Well before anyone could imagine space travel and moon landings, Verne wrote “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1866. His predictive writings really were uncanny, such locating the l splashdown point in his novel just a few miles from the actual site of Apollo 8’s splashdown.  The launch point of the moon capsule also was close to Cape Canaveral. And he learned … or imagined that from visiting Parisian libraries to study science and engineering?

How about the fact that his capsule included three astronauts – two Americans and one Frenchman? Verne seemed to mix powerful doses of knowledge and imagination to produce an astounding number of on-target, futuristic novels. And we haven’t even touched “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, “Robur the Conqueror” or the acclaimed “Around the World in 80 days”.

Who is to say how he might have fared as a lawyer, had he listened to his father? We do know that Jules Verne died in 1905, a very popular and rich man and one who has mesmerized readers throughout their ‘journeys’ with him.  There’s certainly no mystery to the presence of his name throughout France.

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

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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!

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

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

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Novel Set in WWII France

Normandy france

Approaching the Northern coast of France

Though not planned, on this Memorial Day I have just finished Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See. Set in occupied France leading up to, during and after World War II; the author immerses you in the lives of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy whose lives ultimately come together with a gentleness that belies the inhumanity of the times. I’m not a book critic, but several elements in the novel attract me.

In particular the initial and end setting takes place by the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Because one of the main characters is blind, the author painstakingly provides details about the neighborhood, details that are critical navigation points that help a blind girl find her way from her apartment to the place of her father’s work at the Museum of Natural History. They walk along the graveled garden paths, where I have spent quiet moments watching nannies and grannies looking after their young charges. They climb to the gazebo on the hill that stands against the sky. They walk to the Gare d’Austerlitz, as we have done so many times. Don’t we always embrace the familiar?

But I get away from the centerpiece. The timeline begins with the dropping of leaflets on Saint Malo – Allied leaflets warning of bombs to come, warning residents to go to the country. The novel wraps itself before and after those dates in a wrenching but beautiful story of the people and places and divisive horror of World War II.

WWII France, Normandy

American cemetery in Normandy

So much of the novel is rich with detail, with the intricacies of each person’s talent or chosen path or imposed route in life. While I always have had an interest in World War II, due in part to the active participation of two favorite uncles, I find new stories and viewpoints continue to emerge from the mountains of books, documentaries and movies that try to make some sense or at least some historic preservation of this insane blight on the world.

I do come away from All the Light We Cannot See with a new perspective of those in Europe, whose lives were entangled with World War I, with the aftermath of poverty and anger and building rage that would lead to World War II and that aftermath. So many lives knew little but the approach to war, the constant deprivation, the devastation and the horrible lasting consequences. Like a constant pool of eddies, those circumstances whirled their lives pulling them this way and that with little leeway for choosing a plan for life.

Remembering those who served and those who suffered.

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Remembering……..

France WWII

American Cemetery in Normandy

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

– Winston Churchill, about R.A.F fighter pilots

 

Not so very long ago, the Ukrainian people lived in what appeared to be relative peace.  The streets were calm.  Homes felt safe.  Day-to-day chores were accomplished, and children played with one another in the parks.

And in the blink of an eye, shouting and fires and armed troops and killing replaced the security they had known.  I know it isn’t that simple.  Nothing is.  But I would wager that the “average” person in Ukraine would rather resolve their differences without destruction and death.

After a somber visit to the American Cemetery in Normandy, we drove down to the beach.  Where the infamous conflicts portrayed in “Saving Private Ryan” and so many other war films played out, the beach this day was filled with holiday visitors … children playing along the shore, kites and wind sails across the sky … peace and happiness won at such a great price.

erquy france

And just down the road, elderly women return from fishing

Today, as we remember all the sad losses that have occurred because of hatred and conflict, greed and arrogance and all of those interminable reasons ‘mankind’ loses its’ way; I hope one day the abiding desire for peace will overcome the destructive actions of war.

 

Famous Omelettes of Mont-Saint-Michel

La Mere Poulard restaurant

Mont Saint-Michel, northern France

My apologies to our faithful readers about the intermittent blanks in publishing France Daily Photo.  It’s certainly not from a lack of passion or interest.  One of several projects at the forefront include a book with a dual focus:  challenging readers to indulge their passion for travel and providing personal glimpses of the many faces of France.  I hope you will share with us the things you most enjoy reading and learning about France.  Many have told us how much they appreciate the wide range of topics and ‘territories’ covered.  Others particularly like those personal moments and suggestions that offer a deeper look at a village, an inn or a person.  I appreciate your longstanding loyalty and will keep you posted on our progress.

 

In the meantime, welcome to a different slant today on our France.

I cherish the lessons I learn along the way about what is important and lasting.  One of those lessons centered on an endearing Chapel Dean, who made his own omelette at La Mère Poulard in the medieval village of Mont-Saint-Michel.  It is a wonderful story.

As an alumnus of Rollins College, I wrote an article for our collegiate magazine.  The piece profiled our Dean of the Chapel, who had recently completed a one-year sabbatical the University of Edinburgh.

Mont Saint-Michel France

Omelettes over the open fire

I knew him to say a warm hello and have an occasional conversation.  Rollins was and still is an exceptional, small Liberal Arts college with less than 2,000 full-time graduates.  All of us on campus were like an extended family with all of the ups, downs and merry-go-rounds family can entail; so it would have been impossible to miss this charismatic professor and Dean.

We saw him as a man with a twinkle in his eye, an abiding love of God … and a penchant for chomping on cigars!  In preparing for our interview, I brushed up on his ‘official’ background.  Boston-born, from a Scottish family that emigrated to Prince Edward Island; he and his family later moved on to Massachusetts.  By the time he was fifteen, he had made up his mind to enter the ministry.

After completing his Bachelors of Science and Bachelors in Sacred Theology at Harvard, he was invited to join the Rollins College faculty.  By that time, he and his wife had produced four children and had ministered in two Connecticut churches.  He was the fourth dean of the Knowles Memorial Chapel and would ultimately earn the title of full professor. He was bemused by the latter.  He related that his professorship was a real accomplishment, in that his only previous teaching experience was instructing Sunday School.

La Mere Poulard

Quite famous and fluffy!

So I had the privilege … finally … of sitting down for what seemed like a fireside tête-à-tête with this remarkable man – as extraordinary for his ‘in the moment’ ways as for any of his accomplishments.  We simply chatted.  He recalled rainy days and interesting moments in and around Edinburgh; and he cherished his well-deserved exploratory retreat, after a lifetime of significant responsibilities.

With his bifocals perched on the bridge of his nose, he peered over at me like a school child ready to share something that happened on the playground.  That is when he recalled his trip to Mont Saint-Michel, to this historic pre-Romanesque settlement on a rock in the midst of a huge bay.  When the tides come in, the Mont is isolated.  It becomes a village tucked away from the world for a while; perhaps with ancient whispers from the Benedictines, who settled the rock.

With all of that beauty, that religious history, that magnificent sight in the North of France; his story centered on the invitation to, “Come and make your own omelet.”   The tale was appealing; he would have made a great village storyteller.

But it was only when we finally made our own way to La Mère Poulard that the ‘bud’ he presented to me that day came into  full bloom.

As we ducked away from the grey drizzle into the warm entry of the restaurant, the picture he had painted transformed from black and white to color.  A young girl in a long burgundy apron stood before the open fire, long-handled omelette pans at the ready.  Since the L’Hôtel de Madame Poulard opened in 1888, the ultra-light omelette has become quite famous, drawing countless celebrities since the 19th century.

I imagined his hands whisking those eggs in an old copper bowl and holding that long handle.  I believe his heart was as warm as the hearth where he stood.  You needn’t guess what we ordered on our visit, and it came with his long-ago message about the importance of little moments in life.

After the sabbatical, he received his honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from Rollins College.  These words were read to him:

“…The scourge of the administration, an implacable foe of red tape, the custodian of a thousand and one faculty and student confidences, and always a jealous advocate of freedom of the pulpit, and worship.”

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

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

D-Day Memorials in Normandy

France WWII

Canadian Cemetery in Normandy

Colleville-sur-Mer. Grainville-Langannerie. Bayeux. Ver-sur-Mer.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day – the invasion of France, and the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.  Throughout the beach areas of Normandy are somber ‘villages’ of the dead heroes, who fought in those infamous invasions in 1944.  “In total, the Allied armies comprised nearly 3 million soldiers spread over 39 divisions: 20 American, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 Polish and 1 French.”

Some of the Polish soldiers were buried in British cemeteries; but the majority is buried in the Polish cemetery at Grainville-Langannerie.  There 696 graves are marked with crosses or with a tablet engraved with the Cross of David. 

Almost every unit of the Canadian 2nd Corps is represented in the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.  Most died later in the Normandy battles, while participating in the capture of Caen and the thrust to the South.  The cemetery contains 2,958 graves with 87 of those remaining unidentified.

Near the southern ring road of Bayeux is the largest British War Cemetery of World War II.  Close to Arromanches and the landing beaches; nearly 4,000 British have their final resting places, and they are joined in this somber place by 17 Australians, 8 New Zealanders, 1 South African, 25 Poles, 3 French, 2 Czechs, 2 Italians, 7 Russians, 466 Germans and one unknown unidentified body. A memorial names 2,808 more missing soldiers. 

Normandy beaches France

D-Day Commemorations in Normandy

And in the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer are the graves of 9,387 of our military dead.  In a garden on the Walls of the Missing, 1,557 names are inscribed. 

As part of the 40th anniversary memorials held in Normandy, President Reagan spoke.  In part he said, “You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

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

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

Maison de Maitre – Calvados

Calvados property France

Maison de Maitre – Basse-Normandie

In the Calvados area of Basse-Normandie, layers of color spread through the land. Somber colors of D-Day landing beaches. Vivid colors of fields and apples and Bayeux tapestries. The cuisine tops off the dynamic features of the area; as Camembert and Pont L’eveque cheeses, cider, seafood and dairy foods fill pantries with delicious, natural choices. Add the soft hills and gorgeous sandy beaches, and you might just choose this place to live or vacation.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised, when I tell you I’ve found ‘just the place’! Bien sur! I was on another of my daydreaming journeys, when I came across the Maison de Maitre. The beautifully-renovated home and garden lies at the edge of a lively village; and, in fact, was once the home and offices of the local Notaire.

Today, custom-made marble graces kitchen and baths. Imagine your tiled entry leading the way to a grand, paneled sitting room. Shall we have a glass of wine in front of the marble fireplace?

Basse-Normandie France

Wonderful sunlit entry!

I see croissants and artisan jams in the south-facing breakfast room and, perhaps, a small dinner party in the formal dining room. Up the spiral staircase, is a nice little office – perfect for writing France Daily Photo posts. Actually, the maison features several choices for common living areas – all centrally heated.

A wide staircase leads to four spacious bedrooms on the first floor. I think we’ll make the main bathroom into an en-suite bath for the master bedroom, as there is also a WC and large shower, as well as a second bathroom with bath, basin and WC. I appreciate the vegetable garden and little orchard of fruit trees, as well as the grassy slopes than run down to a small stream.

You can see all of the details for yourself – Stephen Buss is the local agent, a ‘transplanted’ Brit, who loves Calvados!
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The village offers basic amenities, and the town of St Lô is just a 10-minute drive. For the weekend, we could pack up and head to ferries at Cherbourg or Ouistreham for a nice trip to England.

Nice to take a pleasant mental journey and, who knows? Your maison may be right around ‘the next daydream’!

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

A Dream House in Normandy

The Old Gallery estate in Normandy

The Old Gallery – Beauval en Caux, Normandy

Several years ago, my friend in Paris mused about our buying a big old home somewhere in a French village. We both were single at the time and imagined spending our ‘twilight days’ with other friends enjoying one another’s company and being on hand, when support was needed.

While we now are each happily married, I still think of her idea, imagining even today our doing the same thing as couples – sharing market shopping, tending to household chores, tipping the wine glasses at sunset.

And that brings me to the point, in a roundabout sort of manner. I came across a rather magnificent home for sale in Normandy – “The Old Gallery”. Seems that an English fellow – an artist – purchased the six-bedroom ‘manor’ about 10 years ago. Over the years local craftsmen and tradesmen helped transform the heating and insulation, the kitchen and baths. The Old Gallery has hosted many vacationing Brits and corporate groups, who have relished the location, comfort and quiet of the Normandy countryside.

While the property is only a 20-minute drive from Dieppe on the Channel, it is located in the heritage hamlet of Beauval en Caux and within 5 minutes of Bacqueville en Caux and Auffay. Five minutes? It takes us that long to start the car and leave our property, so it would be no imposition to enjoy the short ride to the patisserie and charcuterie!

Beauval en Caux Normandy house for sale

Hearthside dining at The Old Gallery

Petite communes share their own unique history and charm. In 1965 the Beaunay and Sainte-Genevieve-en-Caux hamlets merged into one commune with two village churches. The church near The Old Gallery dates to the 12th century and proudly boasts an onion-shaped dome and elaborate slate work.

Who knows? If my friend’s vision had come to pass, The Old Gallery might have been our chosen retreat. Or maybe it will be yours? It certainly seems to be the ideal blend of country living, village convenience and easy access to coastal resorts.



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

The “Science” of Villers-sur-Mer

Dinosaur topiary at Villers-sur-mer's Office of Tourism - home to Paleospace

Office of Tourism topiary dinosaurs in Villers-sur-mer

Seaside panoramas and Gallo-Roman history may draw you to Villers-sur-Mer, but you will be surprised at the rich scientific discoveries in this commune just a short distance from Deauville on the coast of Normandy. Perhaps, your first hint will be the grande topiary dinosaurs facing the sea at the Office of Tourism. They even add a baby dinosaur to the lot on occasion!

Why the affection for dinosaurs? A combination of geography and history is the simple answer. The Vaches Noire cliffs begin at Villers-sur-Mer, a site rich in the discovery of fossils and a universal magnet for fossil specialists. But before we delve into the fascinating exhibitions at Paléospace l’Odyssée, let’s digress for a moment to another noteworthy site in the small ville.

Imagine – you are visiting a charming town along the sea that happens to be precisely located at the intersection of the Meridian line of Greenwich. Some 250 years ago, scientists sought a method of measuring longitude. The Greenwich Meridian was established as a universal reference point for space and time.

Stand on the prominent marker overlooking the English Channel, and you will be at longitude 0. Step across, and you cross from the east of the planet to the west. And if you are there at noon in universal time, you will see the sun at its zenith. For all of us who may run our lives with the help of digital clocks and watches, this precision is fascinating!

Dinosaur Exhibit - Paléospace l'Odyssée - Normandy

Bonjour Jurassic! Dinosaur Exhibit – Paléospace l’Odyssée – Normandy

Enter the museum Paléospace l’Odyssée, and – sans Spielberg – you will travel back to the Jurassic age! Over 160 million years ago, Normandy lay beneath a warm sea; and with creative and interactive reconstructions, Paléospace returns you to the era of towering predators.

Many fossils were unearthed around the ‘Falaises des Vaches Noires’ (The Cliff of Black Cows): 30-feet-long pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, salt-water crocodiles, ammonites… and the remains of dinosaurs! And, by the way, the site is particularly stimulating for children. Located by the marshes, beach and cliffs, Paléospace also sheds light on the coastal marshlands.

Now we will flip forward a few years to the 13th century, when men adapted to the coastal marsh and cultivated the land to rear cattle. That development led to the unique wetland marshes and rich ecosystem we embrace today.  Again appealing to adults and children (inventive interactive games reel them in!), the sensory “Walk from the Marais” features seasonal diversities of flora, fauna, migrating birds and sweeping views of the freshwater tidal marshes and wooded hillsides.

All in all, Villers-sur-Mer offers a quietly rich smorgasbord of sites, senses and delightful holiday memories.

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



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The Golden Lure of Côte Fleurie

Honfleur along the Cote Fleurie in Normandy

The artistic harbor of Honfleur in Calvados

Don’t we always tout the fabulous Côte d’Azur as the capital of seaside glamour?  Well, if we don’t, then the media, the rich and famous certainly seem to take that direction.

Just two hours north of Paris by car or train, a different type of golden destination awaits – one less “Hollywood” and more “Martha’s Vineyard” in style.  The Côte Fleurie forms the eastern coast of the Calvados department and stretches in magnificent beauty along the English Channel, hugging the sea with golden beaches and craggy coastal cliffs.  And the name itself – Côte Fleurie- reflects the verdant green and flowered landscape that stretches inland from the coastal hills.

Instead of Cannes and Saint-Tropez, think Cabourg, Honfleur, Deauville and Trouville – a delightful mix of golden, sandy beaches, discreet mansions, artists’ retreats, abundant seafood and even all-night casinos.  The area has long been the retreat of the privileged, Parisians looking for a destination equally resplendent and convenient.  Monet painted in Honfleur, and the likes of the Rothschilds and Yves Saint Laurent escaped to their holiday residences along the coast.

Marcel Proust was one of Cabourg’s regular visitors, a frequent resident of the Grand Hotel; and it is in this ville that another reflection of the South is seen – the Cabourg Film Festival, just one of many cultural events on the horizon for the area.  On the glamour side of the equation, lively Casino soirées welcome an inclusive mix of residents, tourists and Parisian elite – none blocked by daunting doormen checking exclusive lists.

Changing landscapes - cliffs, beaches and vast green fields along the Normandy coast

The many personalities along the Côte Fleurie

The artistic port is just 15 kilometres from the dazzling Deauville and Trouville resorts, but it is set in a peaceful countryside with grazing cattle and sheep and, naturally, the famous apple trees of Calvados.Honfleur was a key player in the birth of Impressionism.  Galleries and museums attest to the magnetic pull of the quaint seaside port and resplendent surrounding landscape.  Masters of pre-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and all points in between have committed their visions of Honfleur to canvas – Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Camille Corot, Édouard – the list seems like the litany of a budding art connoisseur looking to impress!

Oh, the romance of the Normandy coast plays from one canvas after another.  The landscape lured Monet away from the creation of caricatures to paint the bathers along Trouville beach, wind-swept sailboats challenging Deauville harbor, cobbled street scenes and elegant ladies enjoying the beach.

I suppose we could add our own version of snobbery and reject the resort-like changes of the area –“It simply isn’t as it used to be!”  But then we would miss the beauty of today blended with our imaginations of yesteryear.  We are just fine with that.proposition.

 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.
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La Maison de Lucie – Honfleur

wisteria+Francois honfleur hotel de charme - La Maison de Lucie

Wisteria greetings at La Maison de Lucie, Honfleur

Tomorrow a posting about Honfleur, but today we’ll choose our discreet lodging.  Right in the historic heart of Honfleur, the three-star La Maison de Lucie surrounds you with a delicate, sensory atmosphere.

The petite “maison” dates to the end of the 18th century, the former home of poet and novelist Lucie Delarue Mardrus. The tranquil hotel offers two distinct views – second-floor rooms overlooking the town, surrounding hills and the estuary and first-floor rooms opening on to the wisteria-filled courtyard. Quiet elegance underscores the handsome décor with wooden paneling and floors, tiled bathrooms and refined furnishings.

Sounds like the perfect place from which to explore the Côte Fleurie!


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

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

Parisian Retreat in Normandy

Parisian Getaway - The Grand Hotel of Cabourg Normandy

The Grand Hotel of Cabourg – © ATOUT FRANCE/CDT Calvados

The French Riviera naturally springs to mind, when we think of fabulous seaside resorts for the privileged.  Yet, we need only travel a couple of hours north of Paris to discover quite a special Normandy resort by the sea.

The little village of Cabourg is home to only 4,000 in every season but summer, when another 60,000 visitors come to experience the town’s delightful water sports and walks by the sea, the vibrant Casino and horse racing.  Cabourg was not always so treasured, once a hamlet far more famous for wild rabbit colonies, farmers and fishermen than as a playground destination for Parisians

In the mid 19th century, a lawyer and a theater director from Paris imagined a third French seaside resort along the English Channel, one that architect Charles Duval brought to life with a theater-shaped layout of streets spreading out from a central point.  Cabourg with its Casino, Grand Hotel, bathhouses and beautiful beach found huge success, despite the then lengthy travel time from Paris.

And it is with such storied places, that we are able to travel back in time, to envision those who initially enjoyed the benefits of this Normande destination.  In the early 1900s, Marcel Proust was a frequent guest at the Grand Hotel, where he savored Madeleine’s and watched the ebb and flow of the tide through the hotel windows.  Proust wrote part of his most famous novel at the Grand Hotel – “A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs”(“In the Shadow of Young Girls in Bloom”).

Trotters take to the sea in Cabourg, Normandy

Horse and trap and a horse on a leading rein on the beach – © ATOUT FRANCE/Pascal Gréboval

The transformation of Cabourg’s Casino is as interesting, initially a grand tearoom-style place for cards, games and shows and one that later introduced actual gambling games.  In the mid-1950’s a significant change took place, when the manager of Paris’ famous music hall – the Olympia – came to manage the Casino.

He imagined new talent developing here, and his vision came to fruition.  It is the place where Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour enjoyed considerable success.

Cabourg’s history, architecture and surrounding terrain deserve notice, so perhaps another day we will re-visit to highlight the lovely villas built mainly by Parisians, who wanted to indulge in a Belle Epoque style, as a departure from the Haussmann-era styles prevalent in Paris.  And we will wander along the seaside promenade and visit the famous night time trotting races at the Cabourg Race Course.  Now that is a pleasant agenda to imagine!

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

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

Le Tour de France Nears Dieppe

Peaceful terrain of the Northern coast of France

The now serene Northern coast of France

Today Le Tour de France takes the cyclists from Abbeville along the northern coast through Dieppe to Rouen.  What a lovely journey that will be … past fields with fat rolls of hay, past sandy beaches and steep cliffs.

In the states, we celebrate our freedom on this 4th of July.  In France the cylists perform their athletic feats all along shores that were once occupied by Germans, then freed by Allied forces at such a great cost.

Today, celebrate your freedom and your ability to make choices and cast votes.   There are too, too many people in this world who are still fighting for those privileges.  Happy 4th of July!

 

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Remembering the Sacrifices of D-Day

In memory of fallen heroes, Normandy American Cemetery

In memory of fallen heroes in Normandy

Today is D-Day, the day of the invasion of France by Allied forces in World War II.  Yesterday, when U.S. paratroopers jumped onto French soil, they were greeted with cheers rather than the German shelling of 68 years earlier in World War II.  U.S. service members from Fort Bragg, N.C. joined British, Dutch, German and French soldiers to participate in a commemorative airborne operation to honor the men of “The Greatest Generation”, who fought their way from Normandy through Nazi-occupied France and beyond.  Even the United State Ambassador to France joined the paratroopers in the commemorative operation, the first ambassador to do so.

Outside of Sainte-Mere Eglise thousands gathered to remember the sacrifices and heroism of that infamous day, when the freedom of Europe hung in the balance.  In the morning of June 6, 1944, three regiments from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment successfully jumped to their objectives – the landing zone between Sainte-Mere Eglise and the Merderet River.  Their ensuing battle contributed to the success of the D-Day beach invasion, an operation that landed 160,000 Allied troops along the Nazi-held French coastline.

From June 1 to June 7, events in France commemorate the invasion that ultimately secured the freedom of Europe from the iron fist of Hitler’s forces.  So many lives were sacrificed to secure that freedom, and you cannot travel in France without seeing a memorial in honor of veterans, a street named for the date the village or town was released from German occupation.

Normandy beaches of France
The now serene coast of Normandy

Today, nearly 70 years later, you can walk down a tiny lane or a broad boulevard and see a simple plaque on a building, a plaque in memory of a young man or woman who died in World War II.  The plaque may be deeply etched with age, but a few fresh flowers and a tender note demonstrate the strength of memories, love and loss.

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Memorial Day – “Souviens Toi”

American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy France

American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy

Today, I would like to visit our vast cemetery overlooking the English Channel in Normandy.  All of the crosses and Stars of David face the West, looking homeward toward America.

Today, I remember my husband’s grandfather, who fought in France in World War I.  And I remember my two uncles, both Lieutenants, both named Bill.  One was a pilot based in England, the other on the ground in Belgium.  I have the now frail, tiny letters they wrote to my parents from the ‘theatre’ of war in 1945.

And I remember a classmate, who died in Vietnam, a professor who served in Afghanistan.  So many wars, and so many casualties.   “Souviens toi.”

American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach

American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach

 

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Mont Saint-Michel, An Island Again

A return to natural island status

On the 28th of April, a remarkable change took place at one of the world’s most beautiful sites on the Normandy coast.   As of that date, motorists no longer can drive up to the foot of Mont-Saint-Michel, the Gothic Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel Saint-Michel.  The access causeway is closed, and the Unesco World Heritage site will become a natural island again.

The Mont once was a rocky island, some 3 miles from the shore, when a chapel was carved into its pinnacle in the 8th century.  Though still a startling and magnificent sight rising from the sea, the approach to Mont Saint-Michel in more recent times resembled a Disney-like parking lot.

We approached the isle on a wet and dreary August day, threading our way in a long queue of traffic to the mud-flat parking areas on the landward side of the Mont.  Posted signs warned of the times of incoming tides, when the parking area would be immersed in sea water.

Now, all of that changes, and the 3 million or so annual visitors will either walk to the island at low tide or take shuttles from parking lots some 3 kilometers inland from the island.  Interestingly, the bid to return Mont Saint-Michel to its original island character, is costing relatively little and is enlisting the help of Mother Nature.

The cluster of vehicles disappears

Two miles from the site, a new dam at the mouth of the river Couesnon is gradually shifting the bay sands, grain by grain, to clear millions of cubic meters of silt and sand between the Mont and the “continent”.  The tall dyke and causeway connected the abbey Mont to the “continent” in 1879.  The plan ultimately calls for demolition of the road causeway and replacement by a bridge.

For the first time in more than a century, Mont Saint-Michel will again be a real island.  The director of the project referred to the process as “using nature, working with nature, to put things right”.  Cars and tour buses will park in lots hidden half a mile inland.

Without the clamor of vehicles at its base, perhaps the magnificent 12th-century abbey once again will feel like the place of religious pilgrimage it has been for more than 1,000 years.

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Légion d’honneur Bestowed by France

The beaches beneath the American Cemetery in Normandy

I don’t know what you call wars today – ethnic, political, strategic, humanitarian?  Unfortunately, nations take up arms against their own people and against other nations for far too many ill-defined reasons.

An American woman by the name of Lisa Weiss refers to World War II as a “patriotic war”; and measured against today’s conflicts, America indeed entered the war for patriotic reasons, immediately after the direct attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor.  The entire country seemed to rally, working in munitions factories, taking care with ration books, and volunteering for a variety of projects in support of the war effort.

On March 1st of this year, as part of the celebration of International Women’s Day, Lisa Weiss was awarded the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) by the French government.  Mrs. Weiss was working for the War Department in New York on December 7, 1941.  All of the men in her office immediately went from reserve to active duty, so it seemed a natural choice for her and a fellow female employee to follow suit and join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later to become the Women’s Army Corps.

Légion d’honneur

She found herself working at the “little red schoolhouse in Reims” as a secretary at Eisenhower’s Headquarters. While her husband faced armed conflict and ultimately was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, Mrs. Weiss held a public relations position, interviewing American soldiers and sending their stories back to their hometown newspapers.

“I was in that little red schoolhouse when the treaty was signed,” she said of the May 7, 1945, surrender that ended the war in Europe.  In the champagne capital of the world, Reims’ famed “bubbly” flowed.

“Ever see people dancing in the streets?  Dancing and yelling and screaming and kissing everybody. It was a real happy day,” she said.

To enthusiastic applause, Madame Weiss received the Legion of Honor award from French Consul General Gaël de Maisonneuve and accepted the recognition of a very grateful nation.  Receiving the honor at the age of 92, she recalled the veteran organization she met with every month, until two years ago.  She was the only member left.

It was veteran reporter Tom Brokaw, who captured the spirit of Americans of Mrs. Weiss’ era in his book “The Greatest Generation”.  Working on special documentaries covering the 40th and 50th anniversaries of D-Day, Mr. Brokaw walked the beaches of Normandy with elder American veterans.  Their stories moved him, and he came to understand “… what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

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Saint-Malo, the Corsair City

Walled and fortified Saint-Malo

Not long ago, I read about an American living in Paris and musing about what she preferred about France and what she missed from America.  “My own personal space” was one of her laments, as that is in short supply in the bustling city.  As much as we love the culture and vibrant rhythm of Paris, the occasional walk down quiet country lanes or along windswept seashores serves to quiet the mind and balance the nerves.

That is exactly what the doctor ordered recently for our Parisian friends, who spent an aimless and idle weekend in Saint-Malo on the English Channel.  They chose to stay in an unusual old hotel on Place Chateaubriand.  The hotel, in fact, was the birthplace of François Chateaubriand.  That was another moment of enlightenment for me – I never knew the entrée was a person, a French writer and politician!

There are interesting “secrets” behind this charming seaside city, entirely enclosed by stone walls and connected by bridges and bulwarks.  All of that fortification in and around the town and outlying islets was needed to protect their piracy haven.   Though the city began as a monastery in the 6th century, Saint-Malo became rather infamous for its outlaw nature.  Throughout the Middle Ages, French kings virtually licensed the town’s ship captains to attack enemy ships in the English Channel.  These “corsairs” or pirates enjoyed a fair share of the lucrative booty, though naturally the royal treasury gained healthy donations, as well.

Fort National on an islet

Another “covert” fact – the city is a rather perfectly ‘staged’ medieval site, having been rebuilt after twice being destroyed.  The 16th-century Fort National remains on an islet north of Saint-Malo and can be reached during low tide.  Only the walls surrounding Saint-Malo remained after World War II, when the town was devastated by bombing and by the retreating Germans who torched the city.  Wisdom prevailed in rebuilding it to resurrect the town’s medieval design.

During low tide, our friends walked out to Le Grand Bé, one of many islets off shore and the location of Chateaubriand’s gravesite.  They ambled through the enticing narrow streets and relished a sun-drenched lunch in a square surrounded by outdoor cafes.  Perhaps another time they will return to discover the town’s labyrinth of hidden cellars or to take a ferry to the Channel Islands.  But for this weekend, the fresh sea air and plentiful sunlight gave them perfect restoration, before returning to life in the city.

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Roscoff, Cote D’Armor in Bretagne

 

Scenic bayside walks in Roscoff

Tucked along the rugged Northern coast of Brittany, Roscoff is a peaceful, seaside village- the welcoming kind of place to choose for your base from which to explore the surrounding landscape and tranquil isles. For a decidedly upscale, romantic stay, try the Hotel Brittany. Overlooking the Bay of Morlaix on Boulevard Sainte Barbe, the boutique hotel offers a 4-star experience complete with indoor pool, inviting restaurant and comfortable, rich décor. The waterfront views are beautiful, the service warm and the 1-star Michelin restaurant a real pleasure to enjoy.

After you’ve settled in, stroll through the narrow streets to see the lovely 19th century merchants’ houses and the popular plaza by the church of Notre Dame de Croatz. Waterfront quays blend the bustle of harbor activity with a host of inviting hotels, creperies and brasseries. As Europe’s largest producer, the Cotes d’Armor teems with scallops that weigh in heavily on local menus.

Serenity is the keystone of Roscoff and the Cote d’Armor. Long promenades hug the harbor for scenic walks overlooking the water, and the village offers a surprising range of shopping and dining choices. Be sure to stop in at “Mop” for stunning artisan creations, from jewelry and purses to delightfully colorful accessories. And as you would imagine of a seaside retreat, many little boutiques offer marine-themed gifts and artwork.

Roscoff’s harbor scene

You can’t fail to notice the landmark House of Johnnies and Onion on rue Brizeux, where films and photography trace the interesting story of the “Onion Johnnies” – French onion farmers. Beginning around 1828, beret-topped farmers in striped shirts rode their bicycles door-to-door in England, Wales and Scotland. Why? To sell the distinctive pink Roscoff-area onions that hung from their bicycles in the more profitable English market. Though few Onion Johnnies remain today, the distinguished Roscoff onion continues to be produced and in 2009 obtained the Controlled Label of Origin (A.O.C.).

Be sure to take the 20-minute boat ride for a serene trip to Ile de Batz, where life for the 600 or so residents revolves around agriculture, fishing, services and crafts. Walk or cycle around the island’s landscape; where the headland overlooks the Bay of Morlaix, and sand dunes, exotic gardens and sprawling agricultural tracts are criss-crossed by pleasant lanes.
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Le Mont Saint-Michel – Historic Side

 

Grazing cows in front of Mont-Saint-Michel – © ATOUT FRANCE/Robert Palomba

Victor Hugo described it as a “marvelous pyramid”; Guy de Maupassant saw it as a manor, “improbably strange and beautiful.” You simply cannot look upon this wonder rising from the sea without an instant impact of feeling. Le Mont Saint-Michel is mystery and beauty entwined, a seemingly impossible touch of magic rising from the sea.

Yet, all of the emotion and poetry in the world doesn’t distract from the historic significance of the singular rocky isle overrun by the highest tides in France. Just imagine that the monastery celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 1966. Indeed, her history leaps forward not in decades but centuries.

In the early 8th century, the Bishop of Avranches consecrated a small church on the rock, and nearly 250 years later a Benedictine community settled on Mont Saint-Michel. Skip forward another century or so, and the Romanesque abbey church was founded. Many additions and changes were added over the ensuing centuries, until Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel became a spiritual and intellectual magnet, a site of Medieval pilgrimage, where people followed “paths to paradise” in search of eternal life. For the past decade, friars and sisters from “Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem” have perpetuated a spiritual presence.

Naturally, a village developed in support of the Abbey, and today, you pass through what was the King’s Gate entrance to the medieval town. The Grande Rue (Main Street) winds past museums, shops and restaurants to the Grande Staircase that rises to the stunning Abbey church.
Unfortunately, we visited on a misty rain-swept day, so our meandering was limited.  Still, the mystique seeped through, as much as the dampness; and we longed to return for a night or two.

Terrace of Hotel Saint Pierre

Our dream visit? We would choose a bay view room at the charming 3-star Hotel Saint-Pierre. After roaming the paths and visiting the Abbey, we would enjoy wine on the terrace overlooking the bay at sunset. Dining in the half-timbered hotel restaurant, perhaps we would order the brochette de bœuf with a smooth bottle of Bordeaux. Or if there were a chill in the air, enjoy hearty French onion soup by the fireplace. Night would find us under the stars, only a few village sounds covered by the rhythm of the waves.


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Le Mont Saint-Michel – The Personal Side

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy © ATOUT FRANCE/CRT Normandie/J-C Demais

Sad to say, unlike this sunny photo; it was a dreary August day, when we eased our way in the lengthy line of traffic aimed at Mont Saint-Michel.  Imagine that – a long line of visitors to one of the most popular sites in France during the highest of holiday vacation weeks.  C’est la vie.  Today, we would know, and plan, better.

It simply didn’t matter.  I had long awaited this visit.  Several years before, I had interviewed the nothing-short-of-precious Dean of the Chapel at Rollins College.  He had recently returned from a sabbatical to Edinburgh, but I most remembered his description of Mont Saint-Michel – of dining in a restaurant in the lower village.  It was renowned for fluffy omelettes cooked to perfection.  Not surprisingly, this warm man with spectacles perched low on his nose and lively eyes brimming with soft mischief, was invited (and guided) to create his own omelette in a copper pan over the open fire stove.

Finally, we arrived to park in a sandy lot, with the warning that we had four hours, until the lot would be covered by the incoming tide.  There was a constant grey drizzle, as we made our way toward the stunning monument rising in the mist, a solo sentinel over the sea to the North and the corn fields and cattle to the South.

A World Heritage site occupied since the 8th century – © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

Shortly after we entered the village, we simply knew – this is the restaurant.  Others could have told us of this famous village landmark, la Mère Poulard, where in 1888 Annette Poulard first created her frothy egg mixture over an oak fire in a long-handled copper skillet.  While we waited for our dining table in an upper room, we watched a young lady creating omelettes just as the Dean had described.

Local marsh lamb and fresh-catch fish are other specialties, but we had no choice but to enjoy the infamous soufflé-like egg dish with a delicate white wine and a deep appreciation for this memorial moment.  The Dean had long since passed away, yet he was with us then, out of the dreary rain in the warmth of his own revered restaurant.

Stay tuned for “The Historic Side” of Le Mont Saint-Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and monastic retreat that hosts more than three million visitors per year.
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A Weekend in Historic Caen

Pont Normandie near Caen

 

 

The winds of World War II destroyed much of Caen in northern France, devastating the charm that centuries before had attracted William the Conqueror.  Though the largest city and capital of Basse Normandy, it has become more high-tech magnet and less a tourist destination. 

Caen still offers impressive local sights in a location within easy reach of places like the magnificent Mont-Saint-Michel and the World War II cemeteries along the coast.

We chose to stay in Caen for a long weekend of sightseeing, shopping and exploring the historic sites and museums of Caen.  The two-star Hotel des Quatrans in the city center was convenient, clean and entirely adequate for our home base.  

From the hotel, it’s a short block to the Château de Caen, the castle of William the Conqueror, who conquered England in 1066.  Others have gone well before you.  In fact, it was in 1123 that some thousand knights gathered at the castle with Henry II and Richard the Lionhearted to celebrate Christmas.

Click photos to enlarge

Two museums have been added to the original structure – the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée de Normandie.  In the first, European art embraces Renaissance Italians, Dutch masters and 18th century French portraits.  The Normandy museum displays a mix of archeological discoveries that traces Norman history from the megalithic period (4500 – 1500 BC) to the early 1900’s.  Plantings from the Middle Ages and the original Exchequer building round out an interesting tour.

The tourist office should be your next stop, across from the church of Saint-Pierre.  They’re always helpful with recommendations, maps and current activity/event listings.  The church is also a must to visit and was recently restored with exceptional care to reveal stunning Renaissance stonework.

Saint-Etienne Church under meticulous restoration

We wandered through the Quartier Vauguex, a pleasant pedestrian area in central Caen with interesting shops, bistros and brasseries, and chose Maire Corbeau for a delightful Normandie fondue dinner.

Two Romanesque abbeys anchor the city– one for men, the other for women.  The Abbaye aux Hommes, at the west end of rue Saint-Pierre, was founded by William the Conqueror as a place for his tomb.  Next to the Saint-Etienne Church are the 18th century buildings that are now home to City Hall.  The Abbaye aux Dames is at the other end of Caen’s center and was commissioned by William’s wife.  The church of La Trinite is her beautiful monument with magnificent stained glass. 

A relatively new addition is the Le Mémorial de Caen -“a museum for peace”- that was built on a plateau named after General Eisenhower.   Funded and supported by the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and France; the contemporary, high-tech museum immerses you in the history of war and the prospects for global peace – Nobel Peace Prize recipients are commemorated with portraits and essays.  In the landscape that endured and rejoiced in the Allied invasion, the lasting museum remembers war while fostering peace.

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Contrasts of Normandy’s Landscape

 
Lush farm fields and stunning seascapes of Normandy

We travelled from Erquy, west of St. Malo, to Ouistreham, the easternmost of the infamous D-Day beaches.  Along the coast of Normandy, fishing and tourism vie with dairies and apple orchards to fuel the economy and paint the landscape.  Small, quiet villages wind along low coastal roads; and from the cliffs above, the beauty of the seascape is breathtaking. 

Broad farm fields spread from the coast inland with huge rolls of hay dotting the land.  We saw the boats of local fishermen locked in sea silt, waiting for the tide to roll in.  Despite bullet-pocked walls and the occasional reminders of German bunkers, it seemed innocent and untouched.

The same land so blessed with the beauty of limestone cliffs and pristine beaches, sweeping green fields and fertile soil is the final resting place for so many soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. 

Enjoy the landscape and yield to the working man!

 

 

 

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Along the English Channel

Home from the sea in Erquy

 We wandered eastward along Brittany’s beautiful coastal roads, until we reached our stopover destination in Erquy.  We chose the quaint Beausejour Hotel for the night, a lovely rose sandstone building overlooking the sea, within walking distance to the typical Bretagne fishing village.  Looking out our window over the hill behind the hotel, we spotted two elderly women trekking homeward with their fishing gear in hand.  It was simply a pleasant moment to watch.

Exploring the harbor and village was a distinct pleasure.  Sandy beaches spread all along the seaside, curving out to the pier and lighthouse.  The harbor is spotted with colorful boats, and visitors fill every outdoor café table, overlooking the beautiful harbor sights.  In the evening, we wandered through curving lanes, until we came upon a warm trattoria-looking restaurant that seemed to “call our name”.  Indeed, we took our time to enjoy a wonderful pasta and salad dinner, a bottle of excellent wine and the warm hospitality of our Erquy host.

 

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American cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer

Row upon row of crosses and Stars of David face west

In the midst of the pastoral countryside of northern France, the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is the final resting place for 9,387 American soldiers, who lost their lives in World War II. They rest in a green and lush and lovingly manicured landscape, overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel, their graves facing westward towards the United States.

We ease our way along the walkways that thread through unending rows of crosses and Stars of David. Visitors move with hushed respect, each cradling thoughts known only to them. Though members of our family fought in the 2nd Great War; they lived to return home, but our visit is still very personal. All of these men gave their lives for Europe, for America, for freedom.

France granted the United States a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the American cemetery. Our flag flies over this land that is free of any tax or charge, and the same is true for other foreign cemeteries where Australians, Canadians, Polish, British and even Germans rest in peace. The French do not forget the sacrifices made, nor the freedom won.

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