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Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Haute Provence

Turquoise waters of the Verdon Gorge

Thread your way north from the Côte d’Azur to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and enjoy winding through gorgeous natural landscapes to one of the most beautiful sights in France – the Gorges du Verdon at Lac Sainte-Croix.  Several years ago, my daughter and I planned ahead and stopped in a village square to pick up fruit, cheese and bread.  Soon we arrived at our spectacular destination, where turquoise waters spill from the Verdon Gorge into the sprawling, man-made lake.  We spread our picnic in the spring sunlight by the lake, seemingly the only people on the planet.  What an idyllic moment – mom and daughter sharing a trip in Haute Provence!

On to Moustiers Sainte-Marie, we found relative quiet and few visitors compared to the rush tourists in the summer.  Carved from the hills and divided by a rushing stream, we are not in the least surprised that Moustiers is  designated  one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”.

Alas – the main attractions here are the little pottery shops – Faïenceries – offering artisan plates and dishes created from centuries-old designs.

Village buildings seem to emerge from rock

We enjoyed a serene visit, wandering among the quaint boutiques, past village fountains and statues and by the 12th-century Notre-Dame church.  High above Moustiers, the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel watches over the village. 

The “supply” of beauty and historic charm in France seems endless.  When we think we’ve “used up” that supply, we round another breathtaking corner. Our next ‘corner’ was to be Antibes along the Mediterranean, where the enchantment continued to prove our endless supply theory.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

 

Charming Provençal Vacation Rental

Gard department France

Charming salon in Provence country home

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

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

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

Saint-Marcel de Careiret , France

Join us on the terrace for wine?

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Marseille – Chaos and Charisma!

Cafe Jeannot overlooking Vieux Port

Along 35 miles of Mediterranean coast, Marseille is transforming itself into quite the jewel of Provence – a mix of old world charm and contemporary growth.  On the one hand, you discover quaint little fishing ports and sherbet-colored buildings; on the other the brand new tramway and futuristic buildings.  To the south are the dramatic “calanques”, wild rocky cliffs and inlets, where the mountains meet the sea.

Panier, Marseille’s Old Town, was where Greeks settled in 600 BC, founding the city of Massalia.  The imprint of immigration shows through the over 100 villages that make up the city; where Italians and Corsicans, North Africans and South Americans now share the French city in an eclectic mix of culture, cuisine and custom.  Add the ambitious transformation project called   Euroméditerranée – the largest urban renovation project in Europe – and you have a city embracing its past, while headed firmly toward the future.

For a stunning view and instant understanding of the complex maze of Marseille, make your way to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde.  Beautifully restored and topped with a graceful, gilded statue of “Our Lady”, the cathedral is perched high on a hill overlooking the whole city.  In addition to colorful, Byzantine mosaic domes, the interior includes an interesting collection of ex votos (votive offerings), primarily model boats left by sailors grateful for surviving treacherous seas and dangerous pirates.

Fishing and pleasure boats fill the old port

Every day the old port hums with its traditional fish market, where the fresh catch of the day will become tonight’s bouillabaisse – hearty fish stew.  The Vieux Port is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch and more discovery.  Try the upstairs terrace of Chez Jeannot for good regional cuisine and a wonderful view of the old fishing port and colorful boats.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Les Florets – Avignon Countryside

Provence France

Maison Provencal – Les Florets

What’s not to love about Avignon, steeped in history, exceptional cuisine and lively festivals?  The old Papal city exudes charm and is so close to enticing French villages.  A stay in the city is delightful … but not your only choice!

Just what we all like to imagine for a peaceful getaway, Les Florets is a gem tucked away in the lush countryside in front of the Dentelles de Montmirail north of Avignon.  With all of the hospitality of a country hotel, Les Florets offers a ‘Maison Provencal’ style surrounded by the vineyards of Gigondas with abundant trees and views of rolling hills.  Most rooms overlook a spacious, shaded terrace – the ideal place to enjoy the regional cuisine of the excellent hotel restaurant.

The classic, traditional dining room also offers fine dining, where the beef filet with a savory red wine and shallot sauce readily attracts my attention.  For Americans, the exceptional breakfast runs well beyond the typical croissant, juice and coffee.  An entire spread includes yogurts and jams, fruit and cheeses, eggs and assorted breads.

But of course, you also will appreciate a wine cellar stocked with some of the finest Gigondas produced in the region, as well as some excellent selections from their own winery.  Up the hill from the town of Gigondas, Les Florets enjoys a serene location in an area teeming with beautifuls vineyards and appealing wine tasting Domaines.

Gigondas wines France

Lovely shaded terrace

We’ve tried many types of accommodations, while traveling in France – vacation rentals in the city and country, gites near Bordeaux and Toulouse, hotel rooms ranging in size from generous closet to spacious suite.  While often we like to be in the ‘thick of things’ with a nice little patisserie around the corner, sometimes the quiet of the countryside suits us very well.

When a quiet weekend with friendly hosts and professional staff (English-speaking, by the way) appeals, Les Florets is the place to keep in mind!

We’d love to hear from you!

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France River Cruise for Your List?

Cruise France

Viking River Cruise stateroom with your own veranda

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

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

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

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

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

Tournon France

Scenic Tournon

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

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

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Aix – Fresh from the Farm

Vibrant marketplace colors, Aix-en-Provence

Don’t we all love marchés?

Filled with ambient warmth, there’s an abundance of food, flowers and friendship in the marketplaces of cities and hamlets throughout the country.  In a riot of color, vegetables and flowers compete for best in class.  Potatoes and tomatoes and thick, strong leeks pave the way to exotic white asparagus, petite radishes, raspberries, and melons – the selection is endless.  Rotisseries fill the air with roasting chickens, and the line is several deep to purchase just-the-right cheese.

Imagine a simple butter-salt-pepper addition to slow-steamed vegetables!  Or dollops of crème fraiche over black raspberries from the French countryside.  This day in Aix-en-Provence, naturally we pick a flavorful Gruyère de Comté to enjoy with our artisan bread.  It’s really no surprise that we talk of dinner, while eating our lunch!

We’d love to hear from you!

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A Ray of Sun in Tarascon

.Castle of le Roi René [constructed in 1400 – one of the finest mediaeval castles in France.- © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

No wonder artists gravitate to the South of France. Beyond abundant history and natural landscapes, the storied country offers unparalleled beauty and color.

“In the morning, when you open the window, you see the green of the gardens and the rising sun, and the road into the town….It will not be commonplace.” Vincent Van Gogh

Imagine the vivid splashes of color that flowed from the mind and brush of Van Gogh, and you will grasp some idea of the landscape surrounding Tarascon.  In the heart of one of the most beautiful regions of Provence, the limestone hills of the Alpilles set the backdrop for endless rows of enormous sunflowers, ironically with their backs to the sun.  It’s the perfect photo op for a shot of you, standing next to a flower whose face is larger than yours!

Experience the Tarascon region, and you will never wonder at its ability to unlock the brilliance of artists and writers … and the awe of visitors who have enjoyed the sights, scents and sounds.  You take in purple fields of lavender that stretch across the land and perfume the air. Cypress and golden wheat, apricot and olive trees, lazy river banks and every imaginable variety of flora and fauna present one surprise after another.

Tarascon hugs the Rhone River that feeds southward through the Camargue Regional Nature Park to the Mediterranean.  In between Avignon and Arles, Saint-Remy-de-Provence and Nimes; Tarascon offers a perfect center for discovery.

For a unique experience, visit the “Maison de Tartarin” – a museum entirely dedicated to bringing to life the novel written by Alphonse Daudet in 1872, in which the adventurous hero Tartarin hunts lions in Africa before returning to Tarascon.  The house is filled with neatly-labeled exotic weaponry – Corsican knives and lassos from Mexico, steel guns – lions and costumes.

Souleiado Museum, Tarascon

Wander Tarascon’s narrow streets to 39 Rue Proudhon to discover the “Souleiado – Charles-Demery.”  The colorful printed cotton fabrics replicate the vibrant colors – mustard yellow, raspberry pink and the terra-cotta red – seen throughout southern France.

Today’s Souleiado fabrics symbolize Provençal heritage and are as popular in America as in France and Europe.  The very definition of Souleiado is “a ray of sun shining through the clouds after a rain.” The museum includes pottery displays, a print shop replica, period carved wood design blocks, 18th century costumes and a large variety of creative classes.

The Château du Roy René, another Tarascon attraction, features a vast sprawling fortress that dates to the early 15th century.  Rising some six stories above the Rhone, it is both imposing and interesting to explore.

The entire region offers a feast of interesting villages and outdoor activities, from the antique markets near St. Remy de Provence to the Roman arena in Nimes.  Perhaps, one evening you will visit Van Gogh’s famous cafe in Arles to imagine long ago starry nights and artistry touched with a bit of madness.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Dining Al Fresco in Aix-en-Provence

Aix en Provence, France

Dining al fresco with background music

I would not hesitate to strongly recommend a visit to Aix-en-Provence – one of our favorite cities in France.  Walk in the footsteps of Cezanne, wander the city to enjoy the many fountains in “The City of Water” and take in the festive marketplace and  wonderful cafes.  Choose a real people-watching gem along the expansive main thoroughfare – Cours Mirabeau – or pick your way through appealing little lanes, until you come upon a series of outdoor bistros and cafes.

We stayed a few nights and were able to chose a few cafes for the pleasure of gallettes, salads and little pichets of wine, Italian fare, croissant and coffee breakfasts – every choice a pleasure!  We especially loved sharing the outdoor dining with pleasant background music from the strolling guitarist.  Is it any wonder that it’s so easy to fall into the 2-hour lunch rhythm?

We’d love to hear from you!

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Adventurous Driving in France

Overlooking Lac Saint-Croix and the Verdon Gorge

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

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

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

Hmm – What does that sign say?

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

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Julia’s Lasting Love of France

La Couronne Restaurant, Rouen

I always seem to be on the lookout for something new to create in the kitchen, and there’s one natural choice that always inspires.

Her raison d’être emerged in Rouen over a memorable meal at France’s oldest restaurant, La Couronne.  It was 1948, and Julia Child had never been to Europe and had little knowledge of French cuisine.  Her husband Paul was far more cosmopolitan, fluent in French and apparently had exceptional taste in restaurants.  He was en route to take up his position with the American Embassy in Paris, when he and Julia stopped for that life-changing lunch.  Later, Julia would recall that meal with precision, ultimately concluding, “It was the most exciting meal of my life.”

In reading about her memoir, My Life in France, I realize how much I have in common with Julia Child.  Well, there are a few disparities.  I’m five feet tall, have only mastered a rather grand cheese soufflé and quiche Lorraine and first visited France far later than Julia.

She was a rather awkward looking 6-foot-2-inch woman of 36 who wrote in her diary, “I am sadly an ordinary person . . . with talents I do not use.”  Her husband Paul and France changed all of that, and as we all know, she would become America’s grande dame of French cooking and reach such iconic fame, that she would leave her entire Cambridge kitchen to the Smithsonian.

Written with her husband’s great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, Julia’s memoir sheds particular light on her all-encompassing love of France; in fact one reviewer describes her book as “an affectionate merci for all that France gave her.”

Julia’s kitchen in Provence

Through her experiences in France, she evolved from that “ordinary” woman with unused talents to one who embraced life, who loved France, who relished French cuisine.  “Oh, how I adored sweet and natural France, with its human warmth, wonderful smells, graciousness, coziness and freedom of spirit.”  And that is precisely what I have in common with Madame Child.

From her Left Bank apartment, Paul guided her to grocers, butchers and markets; so she could begin to explore French cooking.  We have gathered our colorful vegetables in the Mouffetard market, purchased cheese and flowers in Amboise, gathered our rôti chicken and potatoes for a delightful meal “at home” in France. Of course, Julia would go on to graduate from the École du Cordon Bleu, while I would dabble at my first Soupe à L’oignon Gratinée in our vacation rental kitchen in the Loire Valley.

The Childs built a stone house, “La Pitchoune” (The Little Thing) in the quiet Provençal hamlet of Plascassier, a typical village with a school, post office, bakery and a church – the 17th-century Church of Saint-Pancrace and Saint-Donat.  It held other surprises, though, with a great collection of wine at the local garage and succulent roast chickens sold out of a tiny “broom cupboard”.

Just as we have walked among the sweet scents of Provence, have picked up our morning croissants at a village patisserie about the size of our guest room; I can imagine Julia enjoying the smell of jasmine, produced locally for the perfume industry in Grasse.  I can imagine her chatting with the postmaster and travelling to local markets to find all of the fresh ingredients for her next repast.

Julia referred to France as her spiritual homeland, and about the memory of that first special lunch, she said, “And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon appétit!”

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Alain Vagh – Salernes Potter

Swirling designs and vibrant color

Thinking today of our journies into the appealing clay country north of the Cote d’Azur, so I share an older post about a very talented French ceramiste.

We introduce the talent and whimsy of a renowned Salernes potter, Alain Vagh.  I had the pleasure of meeting Monsieur Vagh and his engaging wife, Jacotte, during my first trip to France, and that was 15 years ago!

My friend and I had happened into Mr. Vagh’s boutique on rue des Fossés St Bernard in Paris, where a blaze of rainbow colors splashed over ceramic tiles, vases and pots.  We were planning a trip to the South of France, so the manager suggested we stop in Salernes to meet the potter and tour his atelier.

It was a memorable trip and meeting.  Jacotte offered a warm welcome and personally guided us through the show and production rooms, even inviting us to see their home above the workshop.  Their home is spacious and warmly-decorated, very traditional…except, perhaps, for the over-sized turquoise ceramic “A” on the living room wall – certainly, a nice touch for a potter’s abode.

A “garden” of Alain Vagh pots

Alain Vagh is one of 15 or so potters in Salernes, who takes advantage of the exceptional red clay deposits of the region.  He weaves enticing forms and fanciful humor to produce stunning tiled floors and baths … as well as a tiled grand piano, a car and a fully-tiled refrigerator.

Presumably his creativity knows no bounds, and he has no fear of unconventional designs.  Beneath each and every creation, you recognize his mastery of the techniques of terracotta and enameling and the quality of his production.  Each tile is sun dried, and then carefully wood fired in the kiln.  Alain also works with lava stone from France’s ancient Massif Central volcanic region.

Vibrant tiles in the showroom

His showroom is like a color palette gone wild, with les petits pavés (the small paving stones) in every imaginable hue and shape, from little trapezoids that lock together “just so” to traditional squares in relief, allowing designs that flow freely.  I have a few treasured pieces of those tiles; and should I somehow win the lottery, I would invest in an Alain Vagh kitchen or bath for days and days of sunlit enjoyment.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

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France – Le Bonheur Ultime!

I’m waxing poetic today; so if you’re immersed in left-brain sensibilities, you might want to read the Wall Street Journal. You see, I’m taking a trip this morning with Isak Dinesen, a trip to France via her Africa, a trip through her embrace of the land, the people and life itself. A captivating author, I never tire of her writing. But my journey is to France, a mental wandering with no need for luggage or passports or airport delays.

Loire Valley, France

Magnificent breakfast view of Chateau Chambord

Ms. Dinesen wrote: “If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

And my soliloquy translates to France: If I know a song of France, of the markets and the cityscapes of Paris and Lyon, of the Provençal hills and winding roads along the sea, of the artisans yielding the skill of generations, does France know a song of me? Will the water along the Seine reflect a color I have worn, or the children name a sailboat in the Tuileries for me, or a sliver of the moon shine with the joy I have felt in Normandy, or will the glistening cloak of night over the Loire valley tell my story?

Alas, I am not Isak, though she always will be one of my favorite authors. She immersed herself in Africa; we chose France. She carried her civilized Limoges and white gloves to live among the Masai. We chose a simple tablecloth and basket to picnic along the coast.

She also wrote: “Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”

Paris France

Raclettes and fondue in a cozy cafe

We have felt ‘where we ought to be’ … on a terrace overlooking Château de Chambord in the morning light … in the lush garden of a huge but gentle man outside of Amboise …  among the rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the marketplace along rue Mouffetard.

Yet, topping all of the glorious sights and scents of France, the quiet murmur of shared friendship trumps everything else. Dinner on a cold night in a warm bistro. Melting raclettes and savory fondue, pichets of wine and the familiar sound of an accordionist meandering among the guests. Sharing this with our Parisian friends – le bonheur ultime!

Paris raclettes

Warm food & friendship in Paris

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HOMMAGE À NINA SIMONE

Nina – the songstress and storyteller

Those life circles continue, of course, to whirl about us.  Three years ago I wrote this tribute to Nina Simone and also included the piece in my recently-published book – Fired Up for France: The Promise of Paris.  And now for those fortunate folks who will be in Paris in early September, the annual Jazz à la Villette Festival will pay homage to this iconic jazz and blues musician.

France has long embraced American music and musicians, particularly African American performers.  Following both World Wars, many black musicians moved to France to enjoy life as a “privileged minority”; where they were encouraged by the opportunities to work, the relative lack of racism and the embrace of their talent by French audiences.  One notable musician to make France her home was Nina Simone.

Please bear with me, as I trace an unusual story about the way strands of life interconnect.  Though years and miles apart, the pieces of this story form a circle that is both intriguing and astonishing; a story in which music, North Carolina and France come together to create a fascinating vignette.

Let’s begin with a visit to Tryon, North Carolina, “The Friendliest Town in the South.”  I lived in Tryon during my early school years amongst a visual feast of dogwood trees, rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  It wasn’t until I was doing research for a novel, that I discovered that this little resort town of 1,500 was the birthplace of the brilliant jazz singer, Nina Simone, and a frequent haven for F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Small world indeed!

Fast forward to Florida, when I was a teenager enthralled with some of the great music my parents always had around us.  Before I moved on to embrace jazz and blues, pop and rock ‘n roll; I enjoyed a steady diet of Porter and Gershwin, Sinatra and Judy Garland.  One recording in particular grasped my heart and imagination – Nina Simone’s original “I Loves You Porgy”.

Perhaps a bit of her background will help unveil the pure, plaintive talent she radiates in that original recording, her first Top Ten classic hit in 1959. She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon in 1933, the daughter of a Methodist minister and a father who was a handyman and preacher himself.  She played the piano by ear from the age of three, later displaying her talent in her mother’s church.  She was able to study classical music with a local Englishwoman and came to develop a love of Bach, Chopin, Schubert and Beethoven.

After taking her senior year at Julliard in New York City, she began to play clubs and added singing to her repertoire. She also coined her performing name – “Nina” (little one in Spanish) and “Simone” for the French actress.

It was from that strong foundation and from a life marked with considerable ups and downs that she would become an iconic American musician, the “High Priestess of Soul”.  The French word “griot” – West African storyteller – captures her style of musical perfection, pure emotion and improvisation.  She would weave together the delicate notes of her piano, the soul-felt lyrics and ‘on the fly’ intros and ad lib lyrics that somehow perfected the scene.  The results are extraordinary, heartbreaking, seductive and exhilarating.  She simply takes you exactly where you need to be to feel the story she tells.

Her adopted home, Carry-le-Rout

Nina spent much of 70’s and 80’s in North Africa and Europe, living for a while in Paris in 1978, and settled in Carry-le-Rout, near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France.  She died there in April of 2003.  In a 1969 interview, Nina Simone said:

“There’s no other purpose, so far as I’m concerned, for us except to reflect the times, the situations around us and the things we’re able to say through our art, the things that millions of people can’t say….and, of course, those of us who are lucky leave a legacy so that when we’re dead, we also live on.”

This talented songbird left quite a legacy, composing over 500 songs and recording nearly 60 albums.  Her spirit surely lives on, as present in the cool air over the Blue Ridge Mountains as in her adopted home in Provence.

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New Friends in Gréoux-les-Bains

Provence France

Sidewalk cafes of Greoux-les-Bains

Along the way during a summer of exploring France, we picked up a charming book that profiled seven “Routes of Discovery” in Provence.  From Romanesque art and pretty villages to the Giono and Ancient Provence routes, the author and photographer attempt what is seemingly impossible – to pull aside the veils and shine the light on this enchanting area.  I applaud their undertaking; but just as you try to define one area or quality of the Provençal landscape, another rises … and another.  We would gladly offer up a good portion of our lives toward the delight of discovering every corner of Provence, yet we have been fortunate to explore a good portion of this tantalizing region in our travels.

While staying a few days in Aix-en-Provence, we decided to wander north to the little village of Gréoux-les-Bains.  Even the name sounded enticing, and the Provençal sky and landscape were captivating in early August.   Along the Route de Vauvenargues, the muse of Cézanne – Montagne Sainte-Victoire – accompanied us, as we wound through pines and olive groves, lavender fields and a landscape that invited us to travel further, further.

ong known for the thermal baths used since the Gallo-Roman era, Gréoux-les-Bain combines a rich history with  appealing architecture, fountains and a hospitable populace of under 3,000 people.  We easily found our way to the charming pedestrian rue Grande, where visitors and residents wandered among quaint boutiques and one after another sidewalk café.  Colorful musicians stationed themselves close to our chosen restaurant, and waiters dashed between outdoor tables, strolling crowds and their indoor kitchen.

Provence villages, France

Greoux musicians add to the evening

We were enjoying a fresh rosé and awaiting our pork tenderloin order, when a huge pan of mussels arrived at the table of our neighboring diners – not the most enticing aroma for those who avoid shellfish.  Not a problem.  The evening was lovely; and we tended to ourselves, as we enjoyed our respective dinners.

Truth be told, though, I was dying to converse, to at least say hello and try to connect with my basic French.  With the arrival of dessert, I finally summoned the courage to say hello.  Like me, the husband seemed shy about trying to converse in broken English-French, but his wife was delightful and managed to understand my walk-around-it-if-you-don’t-know-the-word French.  Turns out, they were staying in a nearby campground and had left their children with friends to enjoy this evening out.

Then, our surprise of the evening occurred.  Our new friends treated us to a nightcap – their traditional drink of Provence, they explained.  What a nice gesture from them!  Definitely not for ‘lightweights’, I barely touched my tongue to the aperitif before passing it along to my husband.  A little research later, I discovered that Marc is one of the so-called eaux de vie – waters of life that are fruit brandies flavored by each region with its own artisanal variations.  Our particular Marc, it seems, began with distilled grape pulp… and continued with whatever the unique Provençal recipe required.  Certainly not Absinthe but strong enough to seal a new friendship!

All things considered, our foray into the evening offered color, friendship … and to some degree, an understanding of the potential influence of local drink on some of the colorful artists of the day.

We’d love to hear from you

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Jewelry Artisans from Paris to Provence

Marie’s workshop in Auriol

In a world driven by assembly-line production, we discover creativity from the country, where céramiste Marie Pastorelli delivers the style of Paris with the colors of Provence.  Marie is as warm and authentic as the extraordinary ceramic jewelry she creates.

She is an independent artisan who lives and works in the small Provencal commune of Auriol, France, near Nimes.  (In the “breaking news” department, Marie just wrote to tell us she is now living in Nimes.)  In the middle of her career, Marie purchased a home, where she added a new atelier (studio) on site – a place to blend everyday life with her inspired work.  Her ceramic designs are dynamic, elegant and colorful, a stunning mix of vibrant enamels and precious metals.

Marie’s contemporary designs

Marie began her career as a ceramist in 1992, after studying fine arts at the Art School of Digne les Bains, France.  Each of her individual creations and matching sets of jewelry blends sculptural beauty and organic fusions of color.  In addition to participating in international trade fairs, Marie offers her work through select retailers and at the Atelier d’Arts boutique in Paris.

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The “Place” Called Provence

Provence seaside

Red Rocks Along the Mediterranean

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

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

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

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

Provence lavender

Sweet aroma of lavender

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

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

Provence France

Ceramic Cicadas

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

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

Provence

Roussillon ochre buildings

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

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

 

 

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

The Mystery of the Camargue

Flaming sunset over the Camargue – © ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau

Mystifying.  Fascinating.  Camargue stretches like a triangle from its apex at Arles to Aigues-Mortes and Fos-sur-mer on the Mediterranean and traced along those borders by the Grand and Petit Rhône Rivers.  The land is buffeted by the fierce Mistral winds, that even defined the cabanes or huts that were built to protect against the harsh environment.

The natural treasures are many, a cauldron of natural lagoons and manmade canals, a sweep of grassy plains dotted with black bulls and small white horses, a mix of farmhouse mas, sheep houses and pump stations, all working together – or at odds – through the years to keep the land and the people going.

Nature tries to stand her ground against tourists, and the Grand Parc enfolds the flamingos and animals and the  flora and fauna of the land.  The saltiers tend to salt flats, harvesting the fleur de sel; and the rice farmers protect their increasingly smaller fields.  Along the Petite Camargue, the unique mix of alluvial mud and sand nurtures the flavorful rose wine of the region.

Wild white Camarguais horses – © ATOUT FRANCE/Pascal Gréboval

The Camargue becomes a blur of tourists in the summer, campers parked in the countryside and along the Mediterranean.  Bed and Breakfasts offer cowboy-like experiences complete with guardien-guided horseback tours past garrigue shrubs and along reed-lined canals.  They return to the farmhouse in the evening for hearty Provençal meals of grilled beef, Coquilles Saint Jacques, rotisserie duck and earthy cheeses.

Open air markets, bull fights, quaint chapel towers, fortified towns and lovely seaside harbors deliver every conceivable holiday experience.  Perhaps, the crowning event is the pilgrimage and celebration of the saint’s day for Mary Jacobe in May, when the gypsies gather in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their patron saint.

The Camargue weaves quite a tapestry of scent and taste, sight and sound, custom and color.  One of our lasting memories was the sight of a gendarme on horseback out in the middle of a flat, golden field.  He seemed at once alone and a part of the land through which he rode.

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

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

Thomas Jefferson’s Love of France

The lively market in Aix-en-Provence

 

Though I will never reside in the White House, I do have something in common with the historic American President Thomas Jefferson – a deep appreciation for France.  When Jefferson was Minister to France, he left Paris for an extensive trip to the South.

Over three months in 1787, he travelled in his own horse-drawn carriage and carefully examined the Canal of Languedoc that stretches from Toulouse to Agde on the Mediterranean Sea.  He travelled 25 to 30 miles per day, either walking along the shaded banks or sitting in his carriage aboard the boat that was towed along the canal.

Canal du Languedoc

In Bordeaux, he compared wines and noted the planting and pruning of the vines.  Later, he commented on his own contributions to America,  mentioning the olive plants he had sent from Marseilles to South Carolina and Georgia.   An accomplished farmer, Jefferson felt “…the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…”

He chose to model the Virginia state capitol after the Roman temple, Maison Carrée in Nîmes and visited the ancient Pont du Gard aqueduct that dates to 19 B.C.  For the whole Jefferson story, with pleasure we recommend Thomas Jefferson’s Journey to the South of France by Roy & Alma Moore.  An excellent profile of another dominant American with strong ties to France.

 

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

 

‘Tis the Season to Shop in France

Just one stylish boutique in Paris

Shopping for gifts in France is a pure delight any time of year, but that’s especially true during the Christmas season!  Not surprisingly, the French expression for window shopping is “leche-vitrine” – window licking, a nod to enticing displays of food, fashion and must-have treasures. Every French city and village seems to tap from a deep well of creative artisans, farm-fresh delicacies, regional wines and cherished keepsakes from every age and era.  You’ll gain equal pleasure from searching rural shops, local markets and sophisticated salons of the city.

Let’s begin with a little shopping escapade in Paris.  At the lively square surrounding Sacre Couer, artists display oils and acrylics, pastels and watercolors with every price and subject range.  You’ll also discover their talent for salesmanship, as you pass one customer after another posing for an on-the-spot portrait.

After you have explored art and souvenirs, literally step down to the base of Montmartre to shop for out-of-the-ordinary gifts.  You will find yourself in the center of the textile district with more elegant and original fabric choices than you could imagine.  Choose rich brocade for your sister’s favorite chair, or an intricate jacquard for a friend’s table.  Pleated silks, handsome tapestries, delicately jeweled fabrics and simple cotton lace panels deliver every color, texture and taste to satisfy your search.

In the Marais district, tiny boutiques and delightful brocantes provide the designer touch to purses and kitchen accessories, jewelry and hand-crafted papers.  Clothing selections present the distinct flair of French creators who are not the least bit afraid of mixing humor with rule-breaking design elements.  If your budget allows, the haute couture salons along rue St. Honore du Fauborg and Avenue Montaigne showcase Hermes and Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Christian Dior.

An eclectic mix at the local brocante (second-hand shop)

The rest of France also stands ready to answer your gift-shopping needs.  Throughout Provence in the South, think vivid color, lavender scents and fresh bee honey, olive oils, truffles and pungent mustards.  You name it, and the French have surely perfected the use of their many resources from the land.

Table linens and pottery (faience) reflect the colors of the countryside.  In local and artisan markets and in petite shops from Nimes and Aix-en-Provence to Bandol and Gordes, bright colors and designs splash across tablecloths, curtains, kitchen ware and serving pieces.  Moustiers-Sainte- Marie, Giens and Quimper (in Brittany) are among the faience and porcelain masters with designs dating to the 17th and 18th century and beyond.

Finally, there’s nothing quite like turning here and there along country roads to find the next little town or village with local products.  You can pick up precious porcelain, books, brass or lace at the small antique shop in Bracieux.  A shop in Vouvray sells antique wine glasses along with their fine table wines, and tourism offices can point the way to special artisans and shops in their distinct area.  Without question, shopping for gifts in France will offer more pleasure to you than to your fortunate gift recipients, especially when you present your unique shopping stories with your gift!

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

Trace the History of Art in Provence

Entrance – Carrières de Lumières – © culturespaces

Planning your next trip to France?  You may want to take in an extraordinary ‘new’ attraction in Provence.

A little history

In 2011, the town of Les Baux de Provence asked Culturespaces – the same progressive organization that manages many historic sites and museums in France and Belgium – to take over management of the Carrières du Val d’Enfer quarry.  Culturespaces has managed the Château des Baux de Provence for nearly 20 years and reopened the quarry site in 2012 with a new name – “Carrières de Lumières” – so named to focus on the ever-present role of light in Provence.

Just a stone’s throw from Les Baux de Provence in the heart of the Alpilles, the ‘Val d’Enfer’ enjoys an impressive artistic history. The valley’s dazzling solid mineral deposits has long inspired artists.  It was the setting for Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and the creation of Gounod’s opera “Mireille”. In later years, Cocteau filmed “The Testament of Orpheus” in these same quarries.

The Carrières du Val d’Enfer quarry was created over time with the extraction of bauxite and white limestone used to construct the Chateau and the town. Discovered in Baux in 1821, the dark red bauxite as named after the village.

Where history and art meet high technology

With all of the innovation and vigor they have applied to their other successful projects (among them La Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Le Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange), Culturespaces will present cultural events emphasizing the History of Art in the Carrières rooms.  The all-encompassing galleries, audio visual shows, live shows, concerts and lectures aim to transform the ‘Carrières de Lumières’ into  a cultural hub for multiple events.  One big new show each year will profile the greatest names in the History of Art.  Twice the number of video projectors used in past productions will project images onto all surfaces of the rock, entirely immersing visitors in a vast artistic journey.

If you doubt for a moment that this will be an exceptional experience, look to the clear, expressed purpose that drives Culturespace.

“Our aim is to help public institutions to present their heritage and develop their reputation in cultural circles and among tourists. We also aim to make access to culture more democratic and help our children discover our history and our civilisation in remarkable cultural sites.”   Bruno Monnier, CEO.

Sneak preview of show – production © G. Iannuzzi M. Siccardi.

Created by Gianfranco Iannuzzi with Renato Gatto and Massimiliano Siccardi, the masterful show traces and interweaves the lives and works of “Gauguin and Van Gogh, the colour painters”.

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

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

La Cabro d’Or & Spa – Provence

Provence Retreat

Tranquil gardens of la Cabro d’Or

On the first day of the hottest month of the year – throughout America and particularly in Florida – let’s just get away.  Let’s imagine an escape to a lovely Provençal farmhouse, surrounded by natural beauty and infused with unnaturally warm hospitality.

For our extended weekend, we shall arrive at our Relais et Chateaux hotel and restaurant – La Cabro d’Or & Spa – in a magnificent garden setting in the valley of Lex Baux de Provence.  The Alpilles mountains stretch across the landscape; where olives and wine share the fertile land, and the jagged white rocks of the Val d’Enfer provide a delightful contrast.

Our hosts, Geneviève and Jean-André Charial, perfect the mood of peace and quiet with graceful rooms, elegant living areas and a dining room and terrace that celebrate the incomparable cuisine of the land – herbs and olives, fresh-from-the garden confit tomatoes and asparagus – magnifique!  Following the seasons, the cuisine and wines mirror the rich land that surrounds La Cabro d’Or.  We shall end at least one meal with a magnificent creation – bourbon vanilla, grand cru chocolate mousse and Camargue salt.

Provence luxury

Exceptional cuisine … and atmosphere!

We will slide through the cool water of the huge pool, stop here and there in the garden, explore the historic villages of the area and, perhaps, discover a special antique in Saint Rémy de Provence or visit the famous Windmill of Daudet.  And at day’s end, we will yield to tranquil farmhouse evenings.

One guest perfectly described his La Cabro experience: “…There is one thing that stands out above all others: the freedom to do just as you please.”

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Hôtel de Caumont – Aix-en-Provence

Museum in Provence

Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence

As if Aix-en-Provence lacked charming attractions to lure visitors, a very special addition will open in July 2014.  The charming mansion – Hôtel de Caumont – represents a blend of Parisian and Aixois architecture, in itself a remarkable site; but residents and visitors alike will enjoy the Hôtel as a center of art and culture.

Among the growing legion of exceptional culturespaces attractions, the organization has applied its deft skills in orchestrating the painstaking renovation. And the same management connections and expertise that has brought such pleasure in Le Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris and La Villa Kérylos on the French Riviera will be applied to Hôtel de Caumont.

Aix-en-Provence France

Colorful interiors of Hotel de Caumont

 

In addition to concerts and performances, the museum will host two exhibitions each year: a summer exhibition focused on major artists of the history of art, and a winter exhibition devoted to large collections. Inaugurating the museum opening will be the “Canaletto” Exhibition, featuring the cornerstone of the vedute artistic genre – Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto (1697-1768). His works are among the most revered Venetian creations from 18th-century Europe.

The mansion in the aristocratic Mazarin neighborhood of Aix-en-Provence evokes a Parisian influence from the 16th century, a château built between court and garden. The style includes a gate, courtyard, main building and garden, gradually moving you from public to private spaces.

Aix en Provence France

Center of culture and art

The ornate interior includes a mix of Regency and Louis XV styles with stunning plaster work ornaments and Provençal colors.  Beyond expansive renovations that deliver a remarkable historic site, the Hôtel de Caumont intends to be open to all the arts and will include a cinema, conference room and a gallery for the performing arts. If you haven’t done so already, change your itinerary to include this magnificent cultural attraction in Aix.

 

 

 

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Special Moments in France

Provence France

Picnic by the Cote d’Azur

One golden summer in July, we did a bit of zigzagging along the Côte d’Azur.  The Mediterranean has that effect on you.  No sooner do you ‘head for the hills’ to explore Provençal villages and Roman ruins, than the turquoise and indigo waters of the sea send out a call to you – “Come back.”  We couldn’t resist that call!

We found ourselves threading along the rocky red coast among parasol pines and privileged beachfront homes, quaint seaside restaurants and swimming coves.  The day was hot, the water enticing.

A little market ‘called our name’, and we stopped for picnic provisions – the de rigueur fruit, cheese, bread and wine – mais oui!  From the market, we found a perfect little cove to
share with a few French people making the most of their summer holidays.

French Riviera

The rocky, pine-filled coast

The most well-meaning travelers can tell you about fabulous historic sites and extravagant museums, about Roman ruins and festive celebrations.  We have enjoyed a bit of each in our travels through France.

The most vivid memories, though, seem to stem from smaller, less intense moments – a quiet walk and a glass of wine with a friend, a picnic among strangers by the sea.  Dipping our toes in the waters of the renowned Cote d’Azur. Watching children trying to trap elusive sand by a rock in the sea.  Enjoying rich, nutty Comté cheese and a chilled glass of Provencal Rosé.  Perfection.

We drove further and stopped along a more vibrant stretch of beach – certainly a contrast from our private cove, but nonetheless a pleasure.  We stayed a bit to share the sun and sea and even called home – right then and there – to taunt our family with the sights before us!

Provence Riviera

Calling home on the Riviera!

It was our hope then … and now that we would one day all enjoy these moments together on our own Mediterranean holiday.

 

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

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

French Lavender Sights and Scents

Paris Je T'Aime scarf

Anne Touraine – Paris fashion finds

Lavender blue – it’s a color straight from the skies and seas and hills, and it’s also the color touted this week by my favorite scarf creator, ANNE TOURAINE Paris™.  Coupled with some very savvy fashion finds by  Givenchy, H&M, Helmut by Helmut Lang, Henri Bendel and Joe’s Jeans; Anne bestows the crowning jewel – her Paris Je T’Aime lavender scarf with delicate drawings of the many City of Light  iconic features.

Lavender – the color, the scent, and the sight – appeals to me in every way.  I use slender stalks in a Provençal ceramic cicada to welcome visitors.  I sprinkle loose bits of lavender, when I vacuum to spread the scent throughout the room.  Oh, and you can be sure big squares of lavender soap are fixtures in my bath.

One of my most delightful memories of lavender occurred during a drive north of Aix-en-Provence.  We rounded a bend in the hills and came across a roadside table filled with lavender bunches.  A simple family homestead was set in the midst of this family’s lavender fields, spreading back, back to the hills behind the house.  Naturally, we stopped and bought a generous armload of lavender and enjoyed a warm encounter with the young ladies who welcomed us.

French lavender

Lavender fields of Provence

Today, it is my Anne Touraine – Paris lavender scarf that becomes the perfect addition to many outfits.   The color makes blue eyes turn Elizabeth Taylor violet, and the soft drape of Anne’s design is a natural magnet for attention and compliments.

Wishing you days and days of lavender enjoyment!

Wine from Winemakers – Triennes

Aix en Provence

Triennes Rosé from Provence

Simple winemaking without the cosmetics.

Our son recently gave us a gift that yielded another – a bottle of delicate Triennes Rosé from the heart of Provence.   The added bonus?  Memories, appealing joyous memories of travel in southern France, of shaded river banks and cool sips of Provençal wine on warm summer days.

The Triennes Rosé is fresh,  satisfying and reasonable.  Just east of Aix-en-Provence, one of our favorite French cities, gently sloping hills are exposed to the South.  Situated a mere thirty kilometers from the Mediterranean, the lay of the land and mix of clay and limestone provide ideal conditions for Triennes’ wines.  The refreshing microclimate favors the acidity of Triennes wines and results in a variety of exceptional wines. I love the way they describe their process:  “We make our wines the way we like to drink them.”

Assuming you might want an opinion other than mine, let’s see how wine connoisseur’s describe this elegant wine –   70% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, and 5% Merlot ; night harvesting for temperature control; very pale in color and aromatic notes of citrus, raspberry and white pepper….elegant and fresh!

All of that descriptive, and my reaction was a simple, “Delicieux!”

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

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

Two Fine Art Expos Now in France

On display in Caen France

John Singer Sargent, Femme et enfant endormis dans une barque sous un saule, 1887. Lisbonne, Gulbenkian Museum. @ 2013, The Calouste Gulbenkian.

Two vibrant artistic exhibitions promise holiday visitors visual feasts in France this summer.  The second edition of the Normandy Impressionist Festival  promises an appealing series of extraordinary exhibitions that will wrap around nearly 600 cultural events throughout the region.

With a focus on the theme of water, Normandy captures its maritime heritage and a central element of its existence.  Impressionists – most notably Claude Monet – represented the waters of the sea, rivers and rain.  Monet often said that “the Seine is my atelier” and the grand river we associate with Paris continues to play an important role in linking the City of Light to the sea and to the ports of Rouen and Le Havre.  The river’s importance in artistic impressionism is equally so in contributing to commerce and contemporary development in northern France.

With Normandy’s expansive coastline and seaside resorts, Impressionists also enjoyed capturing the holiday and maritime activities of the region.  Eugène Boudin painted the beaches on the Côte Fleurie, while Claude Monet brought to life the cliffs on the coast of Albâtre.  Camille Corot and Raoul Dufy painted the ports, and Mont Saint-Michel was a favorite subject of Impressionist painters.

An equally enjoyable summer art tour takes place in the South at The Grand Atelier du Midi in Marseille.  Over 200 masterpieces will be exhibited at the Palais Longchamps until October 13.  If the serene elements of water captured the imagination of Impressionists in the North, the vivid colors around Provence and the Mediterranean flashed across the canvases of southern painters.

Marseille France

The old port, Marseille – Franck Charel – © Atout France

As a critical part of Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture, the cultural program will be a flagship event with a dominant focus of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.  The entire region from northern Spain to the Italian Riviera serve as a virtual artistic laboratory, as one painter after another sought to capture the vitality of one of France’s most colorful and enchanting regions.

Cézanne summed up the delicate relationship between form and color, when he said, “When colour is at its richest, form takes on its fullest expression.” Many 20th century artists were heavily influenced by these two magnificent painters.

The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence augments Marseille’s exhibition with “From Cézanne to Matisse”.   Visitors begin with Renoir and Signac works in the then obscure fishing village of Saint Tropez.   Matisse painted at Nice, while Picasso’s studios were in Antibes and Cannes; where they captured both the sunny and somber nature of the southern landscape.  Without question the entire region served as a breeding ground of imagination for artists and writers.

Dividing the exhibition between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence provides visitors with the dazzling opportunity to see the very best of artistic expression.  Perhaps Van Gogh best summed up the influence of the region:  “The whole future of art is to be found in the South of France.”

Would love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Avignon’s Summer Music/Arts Festival

Avignon France

Papal Palace, Avignon

The region of Provence lays claim to some of the loveliest cities of France, and Avignon stands as a beacon among those cities. Even though friends warned us not to visit during the summer music festival, we threw caution to the wind and joined the riotous fun of characters roaming the streets promoting theatre performances, faux wedding parties, mimes and music – a virtual circus of activity with the whimsical joy of a summer celebration in France. It’s a fantastic time and place to choose your café seat and watch the larger-than-life scenes roll by.

As the crowds thinned, the remarkable beauty of the city emerged once again. Stone ramparts encircle the city of magnificent architecture and art, broad avenues and tiny streets; until you arrive at the imposingly beautiful medieval fortress and home-away-from-home Palace of the Popes. From the fortress you will see the famous ruins of the Pont d’Avignon over the Rhône River. Whether you choose off-season quiet or mid-summer festivities, Avignon is a must-see stop in your discovery of France.

France summer festivals

Avignon Festival

Copyright © 2005-2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Fantastic Villa in Aix-en-Provence

French luxury hotels

Your private oasis in Aix-en-Provence

 

Aix-en-Provence ranks high on our favorite cities in France list.  We relish everything about the city from the cuisine and endless dining choices to the markets, boutiques and galleries.  The fact is you can’t even begin to absorb the rich palette of Aix colors, unless you stay a few days. 

And we are delighted to recommend a wonderful villa (actually like a private mansion), where you can enjoy all of the fun of exploring Aix from an elegant  hillside retreat near Cours Mirabeau – just a 15-minute gorgeous walk.  To learn more –  visit  “Lovely Aix-en-Provence Hotel”.  

 

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

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

 

 

 

My “French” Mother’s Day Lunch

Winter Park French restaurant

Mother’s Day at Cafe de France

Who doesn’t love to be spoiled … just a little?  I confess, I do, and I definitely was spoiled with a warm and wonderful Mother’s Day lunch with my son.  He definitely played to my Francophile spirit with lunch at Café de France , our favorite local French restaurant.

Not too many restaurants in Central Florida garner the loyalty of their clientele like this typically French intimate restaurant.  For over 30 years, they have welcomed customers with very fresh and appealing cuisine and exceptional service.  Honestly, once through the doors, I feel as if we have just stepped off the Place Dauphine in Paris into one of the enchanting local restaurants.

Cafe de France

Excellent cuisine in an inviting atmosphere

We shared lots of wonderful conversation over Kir Royale and steak tartare, pan-seared scallops and one of the most exotic and enticing wild mushroom omelettes I have ever tasted.   Naturally a light and lovely Provençal Rosé perfectly paired with our meal.  

Too full and satisfied to indulge in dessert, we will return another day for delicious crêpes and profiterolles?
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

 

Avignon -Time to Splurge

Avignon France

The elegant Hotel d’Europe – Avignon

The thing about daydreams is you get to splurge. That’s what I have in mind for our long weekend in Avignon, one of our favorite ancient, walled cities. We happened to be there during the peak of the summer festival, so a calmer weekend in May will be ideal for really enjoying this historic site.

The long list of positive referrals would point us to Hôtel d’Europe for our lodging. Built as his residence by the Marquis de Graveson in 1580, this lovely five-star hotel enjoys a spectacular setting on one of Avignon’s most beautiful squares. In 1799 the Pierron’s founded the hotel, and in a testament to its fine lineage, Hotel Europe is the only Avignon hotel that appeared in Michelin’s first Guide in 1900.

We’re very much inclined toward mid-sized accommodations, as large hotels seem overwhelming and small gites a little too cozy. With 39 rooms and 5 suites, Hôtel d’Europe applies that deft French touch in low key elegance throughout the common (and not so ‘common’!) areas and spacious, beautifully-appointed guest rooms.

Provence

Explore Avignon and the Luberon region

Seasoned travelers in France and elsewhere know well, though, that décor and amenities can quickly be sullied with poor, haughty service. Not so at this hotel, where welcoming staff help you plan your days of exploring the historic city or the renowned Luberon countryside and welcome your return with a glass of wine at the handsome bar.

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

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

Fierce Provençal Winds

Marseilles France Mistral

Mistral winds over the Mediterranean

No one but Night, with tears on her dark face,
Watches beside me in this windy place.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Recently, we wrote of the influence of weather on architecture and how construction yields to respect the forces of nature that cannot be escaped.  The most renowned weather phenomenon in southern France gives rise to all sorts of stories, beliefs and yes – facts.  The Mistral wind flows forcefully from the Massif Central down the Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean, taking on different personalities according to the season.

The folks of the Provençal region lay claim to all types of misery that can be attributed to the wicked wind.  Dejection and depression precede the Mistral; and headaches and bad tempers sweep over the land, as the daunting wind plays havoc.  Coming from the Occitan word for “master”, the Mistral masters the populace, just as it mastered Jean de Florette, making him physically and emotionally unbalanced in Marcel Pagnol’s famous book.  Local mothers will tell you that the wind incites restlessness in children and even in pets!

Occasionally in Florida, we will have howling days; when the rain and wind combine to deliver a distinct message – forget all else and yield to the weather.  And that, it seems, is the effect of the Mistral, when day after day of the bone-chilling winds of winter claim complete attention.   Residents weigh roof tiles with stones and plant trees to the North to protect their soil.  They wrap pipes to prevent freezing, bend to the wind on the way to the market, and lather lotions on parched skin.

Also called ‘le vent du fada’ (“the idiot wind”), the weather pattern takes on two forms – the Mistral Blanc and the Mistral Noir.  Brilliant blue skies with dry, sunny weather characterize the “White Wind”, as it seems to cleanse and dry the air.  Thus, the white wind clears the air and acts as artistic inspiration to all of those painters, who seek the crisp light of the Provencal countryside.  But the Black Wind is not so fondly considered, as rain and dark clouds accompany The Mistral Noir.

France forest fires

Raging fires in southwest France

The hot, dry winds of the summer Mistral pose dangerous conditions for Provence, as they accelerate forest fires.   Devastating fires between 1979 and 2005 have brought about many changes in the land and in forestry management.  Public awareness, particularly for the many tourists who visit Provence, is helping to curb the problem, but too often the French have discovered malicious arson to be the cause of the fires.

The split personalities of The Mistral undoubtedly will continue to equally inspire and frustrate; yet we can’t change the weather, can we?  There are days, when I would trade a bright Florida day for the mystique of the Mistral in Provence.

And I think I just heard a giant “Pffffffft” from the people of Provence – “Easy for YOU to say!”

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

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

Mistral-Driven Architecture

Architecture in Provence

Mas of Provence

As I was preparing a post about the interlacing of architecture and weather, we happened to catch a phenomenal story about “The Dust Bowl” on our Public Broadcasting Station.  The painstaking story traces the lives of families caught in the horrific environmental disaster that plagued the Great Plains of America from 1931 to 1939.

Naturally, homes had not been designed to withstand the tons and tons of dust that seeped through every crack and crevice.  So severe were the effects that ‘dust pneumonia’ developed, killing children and others vulnerable to the ever-present dust.

Evidence of the French Mistral winds date back to about 400,000 B.C., when the inhabitants of Terra Amata near Nice built low rock walls to the northwest to protect their fire from the powerful Mistral winds.  And so it is that architectural elements mirrored knowledge of the fierce winds.

Far to the South in the Camargue, French gardians (essentially cowboys) built small, white cabanes specifically designed with the violent Mistral winds in mind.  The rounded part faces north for protection, and often bull horns formed a cross on top for another kind of protection.  The opposite vertical side allowed space under the reeded roof to protect against the scorching summer heat.    Everything in the design takes advantage of the natural marsh materials and the harsh and often unforgiving weather.

Provence France

Typical Camarguais Cabane

The Mistral (meaning “masterly”) winds mostly wreak their havoc in spring and winter, when wind speeds up to 90 miles per hour have been recorded.   Beginning as a cold front, the Alpine air spills over the mountains and rushes down into the Rhône valley towards the French Riviera and the Gulfe de Lion. Marseilles and St.Tropez often take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it finally reaches the sea. The Provençal trees offer evidence of the wind, as they are forever bent from the fierce winds.

The ‘mas’ is another architectural response to the winds, a traditional farmhouse in Provence.  Always facing south to protect against the north mistral winds, the mas has no windows facing north.  Again in a nod to the ever-powerful climate, all of the other windows on the other sides are narrow, protecting against summer heat and winter cold.

The Mas of the Camargue brings to mind the Spanish hacienda with white walls, expansive interior courts and buildings in a U shape that includes the residence and stables or barns.  Usually the mas expanded, as the family grew.  The various materials reflected those of local origin – limestone near Gordes, red stones and clay near Roussillon and river stones along the River Durance.

France

Mas-style Provence structures

Today, the mas often are transformed into vacation homes or quiet retreats for tourists.  Such is the Mas Versadou on the banks of the Petit Rhone. Dating to the 18th Century, the sprawling Mas welcomes visitors for luxurious stays with Roman baths and two swimming pools in the middle of genuine Camargue.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that winter is their low season.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Three Reasons to Visit France

Spectacular Vistas … Fashion … Artisan Excellence

Avignon, France

Provence by plane – magnifique!

The charms of France extend well beyond metropolitan glamour, although I would be the first to tout the virtues of Paris and Lyon, Marseilles and Nice.  Perhaps it is that all-encompassing nature of France that makes it so attractive – that you can kick up your heels in Lille or settle into a lovely little vacation rental in the hills of the Luberon.  Whether you seek excitement or calm, contemporary experiences or village traditions; France is waiting to win your heart.

Spectacular vistas await you in Provence.  Travel by train, car or on foot; and a world of beauty spreads before you.  One fascinating experience is the aerial tour offered in Avignon.  From the air, you see all of the local historic sites in one afternoon! 

Departing from the Avignon airport, you reach from the mountains to the Mediterranean with lavender fields and ancient villages dotting the landscape – Saint-Remy-de Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence, Tarascon … and more.  It’s really a reasonable tour option with commentary by the pilot in English, French or German. 

Fashion and France are inseparable mates, and Eres demonstrates that magnificent ‘marriage’.  While their gorgeous line of lingerie and swimwear is not available for shipping to the United States, the sumptuous products are available at their e-boutique, Bon Marche, Galeries Lafayette and several Eres boutiques in Paris. 

e-boutique in Paris

Requiem swimwear from Eres

For years now, they have mastered the enhancement of body ‘architecture’ and its contours.   Eres’ designs are distinctly understated and flattering, with each piece beautifully crafted of innovative materials.  Absolutely stunning!

Artisan excellence represents the other end of the spectrum, as devoted artists execute the craftsmanship of multiple generations.  We met one such artisan in Aix-en-Provence – Veronique Baron.  She is one of those quietly elegant French women, soft spoken, graceful and engaging. 

With her “Dans la garrigue” brand, she continues the proud traditions of her father and grandfather – shoe stylists who paid the very same attention to each hand-crafted detail that Veronique carries forth today. 

Aix-en-Provence

Hand-crafted shoes

So, there you have three more reasons to travel to France, and I haven’t yet mentioned cuisine!  The list really is endless.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

#3 Reason to Travel – History

Paris monuments France

Gold-domed Invalides, Paris

We can begin in Paris – bien sur – where ‘history’ speaks to us at every bend.  Plaques adorn so many otherwise unremarkable buildings, plaques that pay homage to those lost to war; plaques that regularly receive small bouquets from elders who remember.  Invalides holds the remains of Napoleon.  Roman baths and arenas mix with the grand Arch de Triomphe, and the homes of Balzac and Rodin are simply there. 

Over at the extraordinary Père Lachaise Cemetery, eternal residents range from Chopin to Jim Morrison, from Oscar Wilde to “Aux Morts de La Commune – 21-28 Mai 1871”.  We came upon this small triangular corner, where an infamous chapter of French history is remembered.  Working-class Parisians, who were not in accord with the French capitulation to Prussia in 1870, formed the revolutionary and socialist Paris Commune in opposition even to the French government.  They held out for two months and suffered their final defeat in an Alamo-like last stand on May 28 in a battle at Père Lachaise Cemetery. 

Paris France Paris Commune

Pere Lachaise monument

Well, that is just Paris – so easy to get carried away, when you are surrounded by history!  Travel anywhere in France, and you find yourself in disbelief that you are standing in the American Cemetery dedicated to all of those young soldiers who died in World War II or visiting the hallowed grounds of Chambord in the Loire Valley.  From the stock exchange in Lille to the Roman Arena in Nimes, from the Canal du Midi footpaths trod by Thomas Jefferson to the grand hotels of the Cote d’Azur.  From simple village squares with ancient fountains to Cezanne’s studio, the wonderful tapestries of history demonstrate what a small part of our life on earth is included in the Big Book of all time. 

And perhaps that’s the whole point behind this reason for travel – that history gives us a profound sense of perspective.

Nimes France

Roman Arena, Nimes

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

The Face of France in Textiles

Colorful home decor in Saint–Émilion

The luscious fabrics of France – they are museums unto themselves, full of color and creativity, artisan skill and symbols of the land.  The soul of France is woven into their textiles.  The inspirations for color and design are infinite.  Lavender and sunflowers. Olives and cicadas.  Mimosas and lemons.  Ochre soils and deep red clay.  Turquoise Mediterranean waters and brilliant Provençal skies. Is it any wonder that the same sights that inspired artists through the ages prompted textile artisans to create such vivid works of art?

So, the secret is out – I am a certifiable enthusiast of French fabrics.  Whether I am in Paris or Provence, I naturally gravitate toward textiles.  I purchased this lush piece of fabric at the foot of Montmartre, where the fabric stores cluster like grapes on a vine.  After 15 years, the colors remain bright.  What I love most is the mix of quaint flowers and simple striped design with lustrous, beautifully woven threads.  It’s like mixing gingham and sterling – a whimsical juxtaposition of country and city, casual and smart.

Delightful fabric from Paris [Click to Enlarge]

In Provence, the rich cotton table and home linens burst with color, reflecting the very land from which they come.  Souleiado deems itself  “The Last Indiennes’ Maker”, replicating some of the original fabric designs from India.  At the end of the 16th century, lively cottons with exceptional, lasting dyes began to arrive in Marseille from India.  Their popularity rapidly grew, and in a rather long historic evolution, Souleiado became the benchmark for famous fabrics.

Today, the rich heritage of Souleiado Métis tradition offers collections of fashion and home décor – creative expressions and colors of the sun of Provence.  In fact, souleiado means “when the sun shines through the clouds after the rain” in Provence.

And I haven’t even touched on Pierre Frey fabrics, opulent silks, quaint cotton laces or the intricate vignette designs of Toile de Jouy.  Perhaps, we’ll revisit my ‘fixation’ another day.

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

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

“The Triumph of Caesar” – Nîmes

 

Nimes France Gallo-Roman

The fabulous Nimes Arena

“The Triumph of Caesar” is the special theme of The Great Roman Games to be held in Nîmes on the 4th and 5th of May.  This will be the 4th edition of the games, when visitors from all over Europe will see the entire city transformed to its Roman origins.  And for those planning a May trip to France, presales of tickets on the Internet are now open, with a 20% discount until 15 April (contact Director of the Arena, Michael at couzigou@arenes-nimes.com).

The historic re-enactment devoted to the Triumph of Caesar will take place in the spectacular Nîmes arena, where the Battle of Alesia will focus on the decisive clash between Caesar’s Roman legions and the Gauls led by Vercingetorix.  Prior to watching Caesar’s victory, spectators will enjoy the Pompa de l’Empereur (pomp of the Emperor), an elaborate procession in which the troops greet their audience. All sorts of conflicts take place during the games, from man fighting against wild animals to gladiators fighting one another on horseback. 

Roman games of Nimes

Processions through the streets of Nimes

Naturally history buffs are drawn to Nîmes to explore the Arena, the Maison Carrée temple and Magne Tower; but we enjoyed wandering the streets to visit galleries, sidewalk cafes, the colorful carousel and gourmet shops – a very warm and hospitable city!

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

April in Paris and Provence!

Provence France

Crillon le Brave overlooks Mount Ventoux

Just a little dream – April in Paris … and then a pleasant train ride with our friends to Avignon.  After wandering about and having a late lunch, we would be off for a couple of nights at Crillon Le Brave.  April, you see, is their time to offer special €150 rates.  I know, I know – that’s not exactly tightening the belt or wallet, but it is a definite bargain compared to their usual €280 to €520 rates!

Crillon Le Brave is a very special retreat, one that spreads over seven renovated village houses mystically connected by petite alleyways and courtyards.  Just 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Avignon, the spectacular views from the village sweep from valley vineyards to the crests of 6,000-foot high Mount Ventoux. 

Crillon le Brave France

Charming rooms, gorgeous views

Our friends are wonderful conversationalists, so we undoubtedly would have plenty to talk about; but they also are as keen for adventure as we are.   With picnic basket and chilled wine in hand, we would head out in the countryside to find a perfect spot along the Rhône River near Avignon.   Hunting for antiques and Provençal treasures would follow, perhaps across the river in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Beyond enjoying exceptional local cuisine and wines, the history and culture throughout the area reflects the Roman imprint and 14th-century Papacy in Avignon.   Roman ruins, cycling through vineyards, dining along the river, relaxing in the village – that sounds like an ideal April sojourn to me!  And basing ourselves in Crillon le Brave would afford the perfect window to all that is refreshing and spectacular in the Côtes du Rhône and Provence.

Rhone River France

Dinner by the river

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Five-Star Camping in France?

Provence 5-star camping France

Five pools for the pleasure of Esterel campers!

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

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

Camping 5-star in France

Dining poolside, Esterel in Provence

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Parisian Style, Provençal Colors

Marie Pastorelli's workshop in Provence

Marie Pastorelli’s workshop in Provence

As an offshoot of sorts from France Daily Photo, we have opened “Le Grenier aux Jouets” on our sister site – LuxeEuro. One of the artists with whom we have become acquainted through the years is the delightful ceramiste, Marie Pastorelli.

Marie lives and works near Nimes, where she creates extraordinary ceramic jewelry that seems to mirror the vibrant colors and natural beauty of Provence. She once wrote that she grew up in the same area as the famous French novelist, playwright and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Perhaps there is something in the air that stimulates creativity in that area of the country!

Marie's 'collier' -  www.luxeeuro.com

Marie’s ‘collier’ – www.luxeeuro.com

An independent artisan, Marie began her career in 1992, after studying fine arts at the Art School of Digne les Bains. In each of her creations, she seems to sculpt unique shapes and fuse a variety of enamel colors. In addition to participating in international trade fairs, Marie offers her work through select retailers and at the Atelier d’Arts boutique in Paris.

And speaking of the Ateliers d’Art de France , we really enjoy going to their boutiques in Paris. They bring together astonishing talents and unique objects and refer to their organization as a center of contemporary creativity that offers selections from more than 150 artists. 

Much to our delight, they showcase those vibrant creations in their two boutiques – Talents Opéra in the 9th arrondissement and Talents Etoile on Avenue Niel in the 17th. They are ideal boutiques for finding those limited editions in jewelry, furnishings, tableware and decorative accessories.

Paris France arts

Atelier d’Arts Boutique, Paris

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

A New Provençal Retreat

Provence France

Domaine de la Baume, Tourtour

On a couple of occasions, we have enjoyed the distinct pleasure of wandering about the small villages and back roads of Provence. We visited potters in Salernes and enjoyed a picnic by Lac de Sainte Croix du Verdon. And we stopped for lunch under umbrellas on a café terrace in Tourtour.

Now we learn of a new property in Provence, part of the exceptional MAISONS & HOTELS Sibuet group, and the very description whets our appetite for a return to this magnificent landscape. To open late in June of this year, the Domaine de la Baume in Tourtour is set in a 99-acre property ideally situated between the Verdon Gorges and the French Riviera.

The Sibuet’s bring the same classic good taste and refined hospitality to the Domaine, where formal French gardens mix with rows of olive trees. This area of Provence is captivating with gentle hills and dramatic cliffs, lazy streams and rushing waterfalls and the songs of cicadas throughout the day.

The Domaine de la Baume was the last home of the artist Bernard Buffet, whose wife pays glowing tribute to the Domaine in the preface of an exhibition catalogue of his works – “…And on the easel sat our ‘home’. Bernard had decided to paint some landscapes and interior views of it, like a meticulous portrait of someone you love… He wanted to capture its atmosphere and beauty, possibly to explain the love that inspires him.”

Provence Tourtour

Catalogue of Buffet’s works

Without question, then, he would be pleased with the transition to a genteel retreat, with handsome Bergère armchairs and colorful Kilim rugs, sparkling chandeliers and comfortable suites. The restaurant will be serving from the rich garden of delights – crunchy petits pois and fleshy tomatoes and a wonderful variety of Mediterranean fish and local beef. They even have their own beehives for honey and domaine olive oil pressed locally at Aups oil mill.

When I need a mental escape, I can close my eyes and see the landscape of Provence and imagine the comfort and serenity of the Domaine de la Baume.

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

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

Sweet Dreams at La Bonne Étape

Provence France

Balcony views over the rolling countryside

I have a new mind ‘game’ for those nights, when sleep is a fighting proposition instead of an easy transition from wakefulness to sweet dreams. I’ve never been a sheep counter. Lately, though, I comb through my memories for beautiful views … from patios and courtyards to balconies and seaside overlooks. And instead of fretting about things left undone or chores for the morrow, I am lost somewhere in France … and then sleep settles in and feels welcome.

Perhaps that’s just one of many reasons I am taken with La Bonne Étape. One of their delightful descriptives – “Cosy corners for your sweet dreams” tells me they understand my search for beautiful sights and peaceful sleep.

The lovely 4-star Relais & Chateaux post house dates to the 17th century and has been carefully looked after by generations of the Gleize family. Jany Gleize is the current proprietor – Chef de Cuisine and Maître de Maison.

His personal touch permeates La Bonne Étape from the charming, lacy balconies and almond-green shutters to a kitchen that pours forth the Provencal recipes of his grandmother, Gabrielle. I always research places we visit and write about, and I was most impressed with what I found on TripAdvisor.

La Bonne Etape Provence

Two dining options

Each comment by a guest of La Bonne Étape was responded to – in detail – by Jany. That is the sign of one who pays attention, who cares enough to make things perfect for guests – though doubtless we all know there are some folks who cannot be satisfied!

Each room is uniquely situated and decorated to exude its own character and comforts. Some rooms overlook the organic garden; others offer a view of the pool or the rolling landscape of Chemin du Lac. More elaborate first-floor rooms offer inviting private terraces, and all accommodations include modern comforts – air conditioning, Wi-Fi, en-suite baths and satellite television. In all, La Bonne Étape offers 18 rooms and suites in a delightful boutique hotel atmosphere in the countryside of Provence.

Jany presides over two enticing restaurants, where le Chef produces exceptional regional classics from local herbs and produce and his own kitchen garden to enjoy in the more upscale La Bonne Étape or in the more simplified Au Goût du Jour.

Within easy reach, you can discover the sunlit wonders of Provence – the stunning Gorge du Verdon canyons and winding river, countryside biking or rounds of golf, a visit to the Citadelle de Sisteron. Take in the local markets or search out antique shops. Picnic by the gorge or horseback ride along the rolling landscape. No two days need be alike in this magnificent area of France.

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

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

Pagnol’s Nostalgic Provençal Tales

Marseilles France Provence

Pagnol’s countryside views in Provence

“In Marseille, I am still a child; in Paris, I am an old man…”

Marcel Pagnol

In January, I wrote about Marcel Pagnol’s movie, Le Château de Ma Mère (My Mother’s Castle), especially as it related to family adventures along the Canal du Midi.  Undoubtedly I’ve gone about this backward, because today I look to the first of the two Pagnol films – La Gloire de Mon Père (My Father’s Glory) – that echoed his life as a young boy in southern France.

Unlike the melodramatic – and delightful – pair of Pagnol films – Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, these two later films are simple, serial-like stories that reflect Chagnol’s experiences as a boy.  They haven’t the big-name stars of the earlier films.  They haven’t dramatic undercurrents nor carefully- constructed themes.

No, they are the collective memories of an ‘old man’ that is forever young in looking back to his adventures in the rustic hills around Bastide Neuve (New Country House).   In his wonderful twist of words and humor, the renowned author and filmmaker wrote:  “The house was called the Bastide Neuve, but it had been new for a very long time…”

Provence France

Pagnol’s summer cottage

That is the vacation home to which the Pagnol family would retreat each summer, perhaps in an escape from the bustle of Marseilles and the demands of the father’s teaching profession.  It is from that Provençal cottage that young Pagnol sets out to learn the secrets of the hills.  With the help of his rather mischievous Uncle Jules and that of his new friend, Lili, Marcel comes to know the lore of Provence and the simple bounties of the land – the high eagle’s nest, the carefully chosen pathways up rocky hill faces, the wondrous echoes across the valley.

And after each summer of exploration and contentment, autumn would arrive and Marcel would leave his treasured land to return to school.  It’s not the sort of movie to measure with box office returns or glowing reviews.  Rather, there is a kind of nostalgia with which we can all identify – a remembrance of gentle places and family traditions, of innocent hunting games in the forest and poignant memories of places and people we loved.

I like what Roger Ebert wrote about Pagnol’s film.  “Childhood ends, in a sense, the day we discover that summer does not last forever.”  But then, nothing lasts forever, it would seem.

 

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.
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A Very Nice Non-Vintage Wine

Saint-Cosme Chateau

Cartoonish and captivating Little James label!

Under the live and learn banner, we tried a nice little wine the other night – Little James Basket Press sold under the Saint-Cosme label.  The label itself was quippy and humorous, but the wine was a real non-vintage taste treat – 100% Grenache table wine.

A little research proved interesting, in that Little James wine is the product of a solera system, in which the vintner fractionally blends wines over a period of years to create a signature taste.  This innovative and lively wine comes from the highly respected 450-year-old Château Saint Cosme, where the “wine maintains the spirit of the Burgundian merchants in the ancient times, who used to craft nice wines without taking into account the vintages.”  The 2010 Little James contains 50% of 2009 blended with 50% from all of the vintages from the previous ten yearschateau label 1

In the heart of the appellation Gigondas, the Château de Saint Cosme is an exceptional estate with perfectly preserved Gallo-Roman fermentation vats and 14 generations of experience in producing extraordinary wines.  They accord the geology some of the credit, where the diverse soils cover the crossing of two geological faults.  And the cool microclimate allows for late ripening.  The rest of the credit, though, belongs to a family of proud vignerons who have perfected their craft since 1490.

I rather imagine that the Roman-style Saint Cosme Chapel in the heart of the vineyard watches carefully over the grapes by the light of the moon, while the vignerons apply ancient methods to make incredibly balanced wines.

Tomorrow another treat – a peak at a delightful Maison Provençale near the Château Saint Cosme.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

Provence Wrapped in Cultural Events

Marseille celebrates art and culture

Marseille – Provence Capital of European Culture 2013

Five years ago, a European jury of 13 people and organizations designated Marseille Provence and Kosice, Slovakia the 2013 European Capitals of Culture. At long last, the calendar has turned, and those five years of planning are playing out all across Provence. Officially kicked off last week, the year of cultural celebrations demonstrates the extraordinary collaboration between 8 Provençal cities and more than 2.2 million inhabitants.

In Marseille, the best places to find complete information are the Pavilion M in the Place Bargemon and Espace Culture at 42 Canebiere, where event and exhibition tickets are sold and information about transport provided. Artistic and cultural events of all disciplines will take place from Arles to Toulon – from gastronomy and scholarly conferences to art displays and performing arts.

Impressive new cultural facilities enhance Marseille’s urban landscape along the seafront – MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations from Europe) and the Mediterranean, the Regional Centre of the Mediterranean, the Silo and the FRAC. Based in the Fort Saint-Jean overlooking the port, the MuCEM will house collections from the “Europe” department of the Museum of Man in Paris.The largest private cultural facility added to Marseille’s esteemed ‘collection’ is the Museum Regards de Provence, constructed in the former Sanitary Station of Marseille.

Provence and Marseille France

Thousands celebrate the year of cultural events in Marseille and Provence

A unique concept of the Ateliers de l’Euro Méditerranée will host over 200 training and creativity workshops for artists, created as a major European project of intercultural dialogue. Also developed for the sharing of cultures and challenges will be six commissioned films on the role of women in the Mediterranean. Special tribute and exhibitions will focus on Albert Camus, whose centenary birthdate will be celebrated in 2013.

As the world increasingly reduces communication to rapid tweets and texts; the spirit of collaboration, communication and culture that permeates the Marseille celebrations is encouraging.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

7 Fabulous French Wines

B-21 List of 2012 Top Wines

French wines to please the palate!

Don’t you just have to feel some degree of sympathy for a guy who flies all over the world tasting wine? Hmmm … I’m sure it can be exhausting, but the wine must help to offset the fatigue!

Such is our introduction to Bob Sprentall and B-21; who hopped aboard the family retail wine business, after graduating from Tulane in 1979. By 1983, B-21 was the highest dollar volume wine and spirits store in Florida and in 1982, they introduced the B-21 Wine Buyer’s Guide – an award-winning site.

All of that is to say that the news is in for “The Top 21 Wines of 2012″, and of course, we will focus on those lovely wines from France. While competition is increasingly fierce in the world of wine, seven French wines made the list. As Bob is renowned for his acquisition abilities and enjoys life-long business relationships with wineries, he ferrets out excellent wines.

We are not wine experts and offer a few of B-21’s notes, so we encourage you to read the reviews for yourself … and act accordingly! As B-21 indicates, the fourth-generation wine retailer is about “quality wines, competitive prices and exceptional customer service.”

Without further ado (not ‘adieu’!), B-21’s top French wines for 2012:

2009 La Vieille Cure, Fronsac, Bordeaux
La Vieille Cure’s ideal location combines excellent soil attributes with southwest exposure to yield this rich, intensely colorful 2009 selection. Bob describes it as a “…serious merlot (and a lot of cab franc), dusty blueberries as rich as they get at a remarkable price.”

Haut-Bergey - France

Haut-Bergey – France

2011 Domaine de Reuilly “Pierres Plates”
In the Loire region, the appellation of Reuilly has recovered beautifully from the late 19th century scourge of the revered vineyards. Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, this wine blends a pleasant nose with good weight and a rich finish.

2001 Lanessan, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux
An excellent Bordeaux vintage from Cabernet grapes, this wine is smooth, elegant and rich. Per Bob, “Never had a Bordeaux this old that tasted so good.”

2009 Haut-Bergey Rouge, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux
A perfect claret from Pessac-Leognan, said to exceed the exceptional 2005 vintage – mostly cab.

2009 Chateau du Gaby, Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux
We don’t have the sophistication to rate or even appropriately describe wines, but anything from the Saint-Emilion area sets quite well with us! This wine is so good, nearly all of it is consumed in Europe, and only two retailers sell it in the States…. Supple, sophisticated Merlot with a hint of Cabernet herbs.

N.V. Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs
But of course, there is a sparkling white – a touch of all things excellent – fruit notes blended with sublayers of smoke, stone and spice.

2010 Gerard Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape
One of the most famous Côtes du Rhône wine, this is a real B-21 favorite with exceptional aromatics, richness and yet light on the palate.

There you have but one expert list; so enjoy exploring, tasting and choosing your favorite.

We’d love to hear from you!

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

Three French Wine Gifts

Grenache and Syrrah varietal blend from the Languedoc region of France

Grenache and Syrrah varietal blend from the Languedoc region of France

My friends, you are in for a real treat over the next three days. Since I wrote of French Food Gifts yesterday, I thought it only proper to recommend three great French Wine Gifts. I am not a connoisseur by any means, so I asked my son who works with some of the world’s most esteemed importers. And so it is that we will discover a red and white wine and a fabulous champagne imported by Eric Solomon and Kermit Lynch and modestly priced in the $20 – $27 range.

We begin with Château Puech-Haut Prestige Rouge 2010, an aromatic red wine from the Languedoc region of France. As always, the history behind the winemaking is rich.

Industrialist Gérard BRU sold his business and took to the foothills of the Cevennes to plant his vineyards. It was an area he knew well from his youth, where he hunted and worked with his grandfather in local vineyards. The quality of the terroir also drew him, a soil covered in olive trees and wild herbs … and soon to be the locale for producing spectacular wine. After years of preparing the land and the domaine, Bru launched production at Château Puech-Haut.

Languedoc wines

Chateau Puech-Haut 2010

Today, Château Puech-Haut occupies 170 hectares (420 acres) including 100 hectares in the small village of Saint-Drézéry, just northeast of Montpellier. The vineyards belong to the AOC Coteause du Langedoc. Positioned on a hill higher than the surrounding hills (thus Puech-Haut), the vineyards enjoy exceptional drainage in a soil mix of clay and limestone with rolled pebbles deposited by the River Rhone during the Quaternary period.

The hillside locale also provides protection from the extreme temperatures and Mistral winds of the nearby Mediterranean Sea. The vines are 40 to 75-years-old, and is a special custom bottling cuvée for Eric Solomon, made with Philippe Cambie for the American market.

Now to the heart of the wine! Château Puech-Haut pairs well with hearty meats, like grilled beef or ribs, duck and lamb. The wine is a special blend of Grenache and Syrah varietals that are harvested, fermented an aged separately, before blending and bottling takes place.

Languedoc France

Barrel painting a la Chateau Puech-Haut!

As if learning about this exceptional wine isn’t enough, there’s a wonderful, artistic tradition that has arisen. Gérard Bru met with some artists to initiate a wine barrel painting project that has spread quickly. As the vintner says, the deal is simple – the container against the content. The artist receives a barrel for painting, and receives an equivalent amount of wine for his or her work. Artists have total freedom to create their own designs, and the resulting collection of barrels are fabulous, now included in shows and in exhibits throughout the world.

Is it any surprise that wine would give birth to such creativity?

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

5 Reasons to Visit Provençal Avignon

Avignon Palais des Papes, France

The Papal Palace overlooking the Rhône River

Remember back in 2005, when the Catholic Church broke its’ silence about The Da Vinci Code?  Though not officially a papal proclamation; cardinals and church elders condemned the book out of concern that readers of the best seller might believe the ‘fables’ on which the book is based.  All of that prelude is to say that Provençal Avignon owes its very history and attraction to the Papacy.

Thus, history becomes your first reason to visit this lovely old city.  The medieval politics of the early 14th century led Pope Clement V to move the papacy to Avignon, under the protection of Philip the Fair of France.  When his successors came along, Benedict XII and Clement VI felt the need to correct the lack of contemporary Kyriad or Ibis lodging one might find today.  It was only natural that the great Palais des Papes be built overlooking the Rhone River in the center of the medieval city.  The imposing palais is in magnificent, stark white contrast to the vivid blue skies of southern France and the sprawling square beneath the palace.

Musee de la lavande avignon France

Musee de la Lavande

For another papal-style outing, head across the river to Villeneuve-les-Avignon.  Close, but not too close, over twenty cardinals built their own palatial retreats,  where the castle and fortifications of Saint André still watch over the town.  Enjoy quiet walks here among the terraced Abbey gardens and cloisters and the views from the 14th-century Tour Philippe le Bel are exceptional.  The tower protected the famous exceptional views of the remainder of  Pont d’Avignon, that once connected the town to Avignon.

Regional cuisine, cuisine, cuisine  – your second reason to visit Avignon.  In the Les Halles marketplace; cafes serve hearty cassoulets and velvety red wine, and marché shoppers search out earthy truffles, herbs and the local specialty – Papalines d’Avignon – exceptional  candies made of fine chocolate, powdered sugar and a very particular herbal liqueur dating to 1835.  Dine at Avignon’s number one restaurant – La Mirande just across the cobblestone street of the Palais du Papes,  Enjoy a savory breakfast on the terrace – c’est magnifique!  – or refined dining, where the atmosphere complements your veal medallions and after dinner Cognac. With the excellent regional Côte du Rhône wines and a mix of olives, lavender, honey and other local produce; the cuisine lives up to your expectations.

Avignon France Navette et Macaron

Delectable shopping!

As much as I love to linger over French food, it’s time to move on to number three  – shopping!  Stunning fabrics await you at Les Olvidades and Souleiado (meaning “first ray of sunshine after a storm”).  Les Oliviers treats you to an astonishing range of olive oils, and  Pure Lavande presents high-quality, natural products from the lavender estate at Château du Bois in Haute Provence.  Throughout quaint city streets, you will find charming squares with brocantes and antiquaires, cookware for gourmands and impressive Provençal pottery at Terre è Provence.  Three-dimensional cicada creations are among our favorites.

Number four is a natural choice – the kind of cultural diversity you would expect of such a vibrant city.  Art and theatre houses seem to be around every corner.  Tours take you  in the footprints of the popes.  The annual theatre festival is absurdly entertaining, with mini-acts throughout the town luring you to their destinations.  You can steep yourself in the art of cooking with gourmet classes, or enjoy ballet and opera.  Concerts, plays, special little theatres, motor and antique shows, ballet – Avignon maintains a robust event schedule with something to entertain every interest.

Finally, the elegant charm and quaint cobblestones, the refined architecture and shaded squares make Avignon such a pleasure to visit.  Typical streets, like the rue des Teinturiers (the Dyers street) surprise you with paddle wheels on the Sorgue canal, cobblestone squares (created, by the way, from stones from the Rhône River),  the gorgeous facades of 18th and 19th-century mansions – and interspersed amongst all the sights, you will find that perfect little spot for a cafe au lait.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

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

 

 

Pure Luxury – Pure French Gift

Le Vieux Castillon in Provence France

Le Vieux Castillon in Provence

Naturally, it would have to be an elite organization like Relais & Châteaux that would assemble a French gift of pure luxury.  Drawing on their many superior lodgings and gourmet restaurants, they present two very enticing “Gift Box” offers.  The “Duo Bronze Midweek Lys” for two includes 2 nights in a double room, 1 dinner for 2 (sans drinks) and 2 breakfasts for 2 to be enjoyed from Sunday to Thursday at one of their 197 global properties.

The Gift Box Duo Silver Lys provides the same range of amenities without restriction on days and with the inclusion of drinks with dinner for 1 evening.  Pricing is trop cher at 549 and 745 Euros, respectively.  Take a moment to look over just two of the spectacular properties, and you will readily understand the pricing for pure French luxury.

Step off a little side street at the peak of the Provencal village of Castillon-du-Gard into a world handsome Renaissance architecture and panoramic views.  Le Vieux Castillon hotel and restaurant blends sun-drenched cuisine, refined decor and unparalleled hospitality for that oh-so-ideal sojourn in Provence.

Le Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy Franche Comte

Poolside relaxation at Le Bernard Loiseau

And in the Burgundy region, it is Le Relais Bernard Loiseau that provides a spectacular welcome.  Tucked away in the village of Saulieu, the cuisine is a top attraction as is the historical breakfast room and the sumptuous lounges and guest rooms.

In every sense, your Relais and Château selection guarantees an experience that imprints luxurious memories for all the days to come. Other gift selections are available and are beautifully boxed and presented with a copy of the Relais and Château Guide.

We’d love to hear from you!

 

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

 

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

 

 

 

 

Why Travel to France? Or Abroad?

Alain Vagh hospitable tour of ceramics factory and private dwelling

An hospitable tour of a Salernes’ artist home

Indeed, why travel to France or anywhere abroad?   While France is our overriding favorite destination;  we encourage travel outside of the United States, because Americans tend to be so insular, so uninvolved and unevolved in their view of the world.  The media is somewhat responsible in focusing primarily on our “own back yard”,  but that tendency perhaps reflects the very audience to whom they hope to appeal.

Through the years, I have met many young travelers from England, Australia, France and beyond.  I was wide-eyed at their independence and sense of adventure.  Generally, it was de rigueur for Europeans to have a passport in their back pocket and, often, an airline ticket in hand.Before the EU was formed, passports were a necessity; nonetheless, these folks had a far broader view of the world than those of us in America.  Back in 1989, only 7 million Americans – 3 percent – held passports.  Changes in travel requirements to Canada, Mexico and the Islands resulted in quite a surge in the number of Americans with passports.  As of January 2012, over one-third of Americans – 110 million – have passports.

But will those millions choose to travel outside of their own comfort zone?  Outside of their own culture, language and cuisine?  Just as one encourages a youngster to respect and pay heed to their elders, we encourage Americans to travel to France and elsewhere to notice and embrace our differences.  Rather than delve into intellectual pursuits of the history and culture of France, I’ll travel a more personal route in touting the advantages of travel.

Gallo Roman ruins throughout France

Old Roman fountain in Tourtour

How about a stream-of-consciousness list of attractions – the exciting throb of cities with modern transit systems, astounding museums,  sprawling parks that serve as the “back yards” to populations often living in multifamily buildings, centuries-old monuments and architecture, the very grounds on which liberty was defeated, defended and upheld.

Then there are the smaller towns, villages and hamlets, where kindly plot gardeners pause to offer greetings, and brocantes display ancestral belongings.  Where castles loom in the midst of forested reserves.  Where learning to negotiate roundabouts could become a month-long driving lesson. We have shared champagne in the streets of Paris on New Year’s Eve, and we have spent lazy afternoons on the lawn before the Eiffel Tower with wine and cheese and no policeman telling us we have broken the law. 

We have chatted in our far-less-than fluent French with neighboring diners in bistros, only to astound them as Americans who love France.  We have gazed with absolute wonder on Gallo-Roman ‘ruins’ – like Pont du Gard aqueduct near Nimes and ancient Roman fountains in Tourtour.  We have enjoyed a hospitable tour of a renowned Salernes artist’s home, and we have relished market shopping along rue Mouffetard in Paris.

Mouffetard marketplace Paris - French cheese, wine, flowers, vegetables

Lively rue Mouffetard in Paris

We are so delighted to have had the opportunity and exercised our choice to travel throughout France.  Looking at a photo of the Eiffel Tower simply doesn’t come close to the heart-pounding experience of seeing the Iron Lady in person.  And sharing sights, sounds, tastes and customs brings a genuine, reciprocal pleasure.

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

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

Please Your Palate in Aix-en-Provence!

Aix-en-Provence France

Terrace dining on Place Forum des Cardeurs

 

Something tells me I’m long overdue for another discussion about food.  That subject seems to be a morning-noon-night event for us in France, so what better place to tell you about than Place Forum des Cardeurs in Aix-en-Provence.  We were able to spend three wonderful nights in this entirely enchanting city, and locating the Forum was a highlight that drew us back again and again.

Wander along the Place, and your experience will be reminiscent of the most delightful, varied, historic “food court” imaginable.  (Sorry – don’t know that it is even fair to toss in that ‘mall-ish’ American phrase!)   Lining the main street and those tiny alleys that find their way off the Place are cafes and bistros, pizzerias and brasseries – a plentiful collection of menus, outdoor canopied terraces and hospitable establishments.

Prima Pasta, for example, offers indoor and outdoor seating around the square with a menu of delicious pastas, meat, fish and fowl entrees.  Friendly service only adds to the overall experience of outdoor dining with an abundance of “people watching”.  La Poire in Aix is another choice, complete with three chefs serving up a variety of appetizers, fish entrees and irresistible desserts.  With so much fresh produce and ‘gifts from the land’, any chef can shine in Provence!

Juste en Face specializes in Mediterranean in a casual, inexpensive environment, and Chez Nino brings us back to good Italian food, just off the Place.   In a setting that is tasteful, charming and welcoming, you can enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner – crisply fresh salads, risotto, pasta, desserts and a nice selection of Italian (and some French) wines.   Those are just a few of the choices in one area of Aix, a city that seems to have an unending supply of dining options.

Outdoor dining choices in Aix-en-Provence

A sip of wine, a plate of pasta!

I must add a disclaimer here.  I’m often told that I’m “easy to please”, and I can assure you that is especially true anyplace in France!  I also tend to have a “non-exotic” palate.  Combine the two, and I might not be your best restaurant guide; but I challenge you to wander the Place Forum in Aix to find those terrace cafes and tucked-away bistros that appeal to your own sense of taste.

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

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

 

 

Crillon le Brave for Christmas?

Spectacular views over Mont Ventoux, vineyards and olive groves hotel crillon le brave in France

Hotel views over Mont Ventoux, vineyards and olive groves

Tucked away in a small hilltop village near Avignon, Hotel Crillon le Brave is a very unusual resort; and for the first time in many years the Hotel will be open over Christmas and New Year’s.  From Friday December 21 through Wednesday January 2, guests can celebrate the holidays in the middle of gorgeous views and Provencal hospitality.

Two days before Christmas, the Eglise Saint-Romain, next door to the hotel, will host a large choir presenting Provencal carols.  Afterwards the entire village is invited to gather at the hotel for a traditional glass of vin de noix or vin d’orange.  In fact throughout the holidays traditional customs reign – local santon decorations from nearby Séguret, Treize desserts on Christmas Eve, and a “royal” lunch on Christmas day.  The traditional Christmas marché in Avignon also will encourage your holiday spirits.

hotel crillon le brave near Avignon

Avignon’s Christmas market

Whether or not that rare snow fall descends, I love imagining the chilled countryside views and the warm hearth of Hotel Crillon le Brave.  Quiet music and intimate dinners in the stone-vaulted restaurant would perfectly crown a relaxing stay and provide the ideal interlude between “last year” and the “coming year”.

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

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

 

 

Masterful Light Show in Provence

Carrières de Lumières in Baux-de-Provence France

Carrières de Lumières in Baux-de-Provence – © g. iannuzzi, m. siccardi

It certainly can’t hurt to remind those planning trips to France before January 6 to include a visit to The Carrières de Lumières in Baux-de-Provence.  Until that date, the attraction is presenting a spectacular show appropriate for children and adults.

“Appropriate”, though, is all too uninspired to describe a magical multimedia presentation of the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin.  Images of their paintings are projected onto expansive walls, as high as 14 meters

It is a completely other-worldly experience to stroll through the maze of stone rooms and majestic painting images against the backdrop of classical and popular music.  Even the ground beneath your feet becomes a flowing carpet of images.  Can you imagine Van Gogh’s cherry tree flowers with Rachmaninov in the background?

I love what the show creator, Gianfranco Iannuzzi, said about his masterpiece of work:  “When I see couples dancing and their children playing with the images on the floor, I know we made the right choice.”

Metamorphoses – © g. iannuzzi, g. siccardi

A second, shorter show invites visitors through a world of creation, of science, of natural elements and matter.  The stunning imagery of “Metamorphoses: from the infinitely tiny to the infinitely large” spans vibrating flower pistils, dazzling colors and the glowing lava of volcanoes.  It is nothing less than a living classroom for all ages!

 

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

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

 

Find Ideal Hotels in France!

Le Mazet dining atmosphere - magnifique!

Le Mazet dining atmosphere – magnifique!

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

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

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

Chateau du Martinet, near Avignon France, Provence

Elegant Chateau du Martinet near Avignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Treasures, Rich Memories

Elegant designs of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, France

Elegant faïence from Moustiers Sainte-Marie


Throughout our home, we are warmly greeted by rich memories of our trips to France – a tablecloth, a piece of art, an old faïence platter. On a delightful visit to Moustiers Sainte-Marie, we wandered through ateliers and shops that showcased the gorgeous faïence pottery for which the village is known.

Though tucked away in the heart of Haute Provence, Moustiers remains an immensely popular destination. The town backs right up to limestone cliffs in such a dramatic way, it seems to be carved from the rocks. In the midst of that scenic landscape, the town is brimming with pottery artisans, who ply the centuries’ old trade practiced by the well-worn hands of prior generations.

Legend has it that an Italian monk named Faenza brought to Moustiers in the latter part of the 17th century, the well-guarded technique of producing white enamel. Over the hundreds of years that have followed, the village became one of the largest and finest faïence production centers.

After a period of decline in the 19th century, the Provençal movement brought about a revival of the industry early in the 1900’s. Today, you can enjoy the same fine craftsmanship practiced by artisans using the 400-year-old processes and elegant designs of their predecessors.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie, Provence, France

Table linen from Moustiers Sainte-Marie

Our friend still has the lovely Moustiers pitcher we purchased in the village; and though wearing a bit through ten years of enjoyment, our Moustiers tablecloth continues to remind us of the industrious artisans and the charming Provençal village we hope to visit once again.

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

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

Labor Day Retreat in Provence

Jacques Chibois country manor grasse france

La Bastide Saint-Antoine in Provence

In the spirit of the political convention ‘season’ in the United States, allow me to ask you a few questions. I fully expect you to answer with the fervor of an impassioned delegate in search and support of Truth!!!!

When you settle in for a night of sweet dreams, do you take your wallet to bed with you? No-o-o-o!!

Should your holidays be limited to 2-star “Sleep Inns” without the hope of enjoying the refined quarters frequented by ‘world leaders’? No-o-o-o!!

Shouldn’t you have the same sense of entitlement as your representatives? Ye-s-s-s-s!!!

Alright. All that vibrant political rabble-rousing aside, it’s time to reward yourself to 5-star luxury in the South of France. Fluff your pillow, set your wallet aside and prepare for a dream holiday.

Wind your way from the heart of Grasse up Avenue Henri Dunant, lined with grey stone walls and canopies of parasol pines, to La Bastide Saint-Antoine. Set in the midst of lush Mediterranean vegetation, 18th-century La Bastide welcomes you to a comfortable retreat overlooking the Bay of Cannes. Naturally you can’t go wrong with a premiere Relais et Châteaux property, particularly with the ideal blend of the spirit of Provence with refined hospitality.

Settle in to a room with antique furnishings, plush linens and your own fireplace; but expect every contemporary amenity you may desire. “Bio Tea” in my room? I wouldn’t otherwise consider this choice!

In all seriousness, I can’t imagine a more satisfying combination of tranquility and stimulation – the quiet hills and ancient olive trees, Provençal villages and sun swept Mediterranean beaches of the Côte d’Azur. Take in Antibes and Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat. Discover perfumeries in Grasse and glass-making in Biot. And see if you can’t arrange a round of golf at the historic Golf Country Club de Cannes-Mougins, founded in 1923 by the likes of Aga Khan, Prince Pierre of Monaco and Baron Edouard de Rothschild. Remember – it’s Labor Day weekend, and you are entitled!

Dining in Provence near Grasse France

Pleasant dining, gorgeous views

In between your delightful journeys through the area, return to your country manor for gourmet meals on the terrace looking out on 1,000-year-old olive trees and the perfumed air of Provence or cozy up to the lounge fireplace for an after-dinner drink. I believe we also would challenge fellow guests to a rousing game of petanque on the boules court near the kitchen garden.

Whether you celebrate the ‘labor’ of your life along the Atlantic Ocean or the French Riviera, discard your work woes and political concerns. This is your weekend to enjoy a well-deserved escape from daily occupational hassles and, perhaps, to remember the many achievements of everyday workers throughout the world.

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

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

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse – Shangri La!

fontaine-de vaucluse Provence France

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in Provence

We once stayed in a small inn by the side of the French Broad River in North Carolina.  The back wall of the entire inn ended in the river below, so our fondest memory was settling in to sleep to the sound of rushing water.  I think I’ve found the ideal counterpart in Provence.

I don’t know how we missed Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in the past.  We drove from Avignon to Isle sur la Sorgue, on to Gordes and Roussillon.  The villages are all close to one another, but I guess we simply did not wander far enough afield.  No problem.  We won’t make that mistake again, because we found our earthly “Shangri La” at the HÔTEL DU POÈTE.

Where to begin?  Perhaps we’ll start with the quaint village itself, a lovely site, where the thread of the Sorgue River weaves through town and flows beneath a petite bridge with an old watermill.  The source of the river is the largest spring in all of France situated at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains.  Windowed restaurants and shop arcades hang by the river’s edge with large, welcoming windows overlooking the water.  Hollywood couldn’t imagine such a setting, much less create it.

Cross over the bridge and up the road a bit, and you will find yourself turning off onto a long, lush drive toward the hotel and river.  Honestly, the river splits right around the property to the tune of softly flowing streams of water.  Not only is the swimming pool set right by the river’s edge, but dining tables line the riverside terrace, allowing you the most serene environment for a light breakfast.

Hotel du Poete - hotel de charme in the Luberon

The comforts of HÔTEL DU POÈTE

The   owners of the three-star hotel chose to transform the old mill into a very   special retreat for guests.  Simple   hospitality is their trademark, where they offer 24 rooms and junior suites, each   tastefully and uniquely furnished with refined style and surrounded by garden   and river landscapes.  As you might   expect, each room is named for a muse – “Au fil de l’eau”, “Chant d’Automne”, le Clos du Poète.

We’ll plan our trip for a time well after the tourists have returned to the city for walks along the white water rapids and still waters, for visits to museums and markets, for purchases of santons and brightly-colored Provençal tissus. And for that ever-present touch of history, we’ll wander by the old Gallo-Roman canal built by Constantine in the 4th century.

If you visit Fontaine-de-Vaucluse before we do, please drop us a line.

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

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

“Moo” or “Moi” – Les Vaches!

The Cow Parade in Toulouse France, September

“Le Secret de la Bête à Tiroirs” – Artiste : Philippe Vercellotti

In September Toulouse throws open the doors to The Cow Parade, The World’s Largest Public Art Event. Cows? Art? Well, yes. It makes perfect sense, so universally adored are these lowing creatures. Don’t most children begin their fledgling vocabulary with “Moo”?

And Cow Parades are not limited to Toulouse. They represent the largest and most successful public art event in the world and have been staged in over 75 cities worldwide, since the first was held in Chicago in 1999.

One real cow truly made us smile in the French Alps. We were parked by the side of an Alpine lane enjoying the quiet serenity of the mountainous terrain, when we heard a clanking bell. Hmmm. We looked behind us – nothing. We surveyed the hill that rose and spotted a cow. Far too urbanized in our lives, before that moment we imagined cowbells to be a touch of lore.

As it turns out, the Fiberglass cow presents a wonderful three-dimensional canvas for artists to express their colorful, inventive creativity. And that originality extends itself to their cow names – “Mootisse”, “Lady Cowdiva”, “Picowsso” and “Moosicowly Speaking” are just a few whimsical examples. Nearly skirting the bounds of imagination, over 2500 hundred completely unique cows have been created worldwide.

“Moo’ving Facts”

• Over 300 million people have attended at least one CowParade exhibit, helping to raise over $30 million for worldwide charitable organizations.
• Over 10,000 artists have expressed their ‘cow’tivity and have been compensated for their efforts.
• Collectors have purchased one million+ CowParade replica figurines.

My gazelle rivals the Cow Parade creations Toulouse France

My gazelle rivals the Cow Parade creations!

Though I was quite ‘mooved’ by the Cow Parade highlights, I decided to try my own hand at creating a ‘designer’ gazelle. I rather like the brightly-colored results!

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

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




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Away from the city to Paradou

mas-Paradou La Maison du Paradou in Bouches du Rhone Department France

The welcoming charm of La Maison du Paradou

When I am tired of the city – the noise, the horrid drivers, the insensibilities – I long for a quiet place in the country. I want to smell the lavender-scented air and see the stars. I want to listen to lazy streams and take the occasional walk to the village for a visit to the brocantes and the local café.

So my choice right now would be Paradou in the Bouches du Rhone Department at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains. First, the village is tiny but charming. Second, it is within easy reach of the Camargue, Avignon, Arles and more. Third…and most important…it is the Provençal escape from ‘civilization’ that we seek.

Mind you, when I say escape from civilization, I definitely am not referring to outdoor camping. No, I have a better destination in mind, the La Maison du Paradou, where countryside beauty mixes quite well with food, wine, sunny days and starry nights.

santon village museum paradou france

Village setting of Santons

Beyond quiet walks and calming days by the pool, we will visit an unusual village museum – La Petite Provence du Paradou; where talented santon (hand-painted terracotta figurines) artisans ply their trade, and more than 400 santons are displayed. We’ll stop at Le Bistrot du Paradou for a warm and welcoming Provençal meal.

We will re-visit the spectacular Camargue for views of petite white horses, salt flats, grand black bulls and quaint communes. Each day we can wander a different direction or choose to stay put in the comfort of La Maison. And at day’s end, we look forward to unrivalled gourmet fare with savory artisan cheeses, exotic desserts and – bien sur – exceptional French wines.

I believe this countryside holiday will strengthen our resolve to face the city once more, if only to settle in and plan our next trip to France!

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

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

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?

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

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

Pablo Picasso in the South of France

Still Life in Front of an Open Window at Saint-Raphaël - Picasso "re-invented"

An interpretation of Picasso’s Still Life in Front of an Open Window at Saint-Raphaël.

A litany of famous artists has drawn inspiration from the vivid colors and clear light of the South of France.  Drive through the hills of Provence or along the splendid shores of the Côte d’Azur, and you quickly will understand the artistic stimulation that moved artists to perfect their skills in this region.  There really is nothing quite like looking out on the ever-changing blue waters of the Mediterranean.  Even I was moved to ‘re-invent’ Picasso’s Still Life in Front of an Open Window at Saint-Raphaël.  

Pablo Picasso summered along the Riviera from 1919 to 1939 and made France his permanent home, first in Vallauris and later at Mougins.  Through September 30th, visitors to Cannes will enjoy the unique privilege of seeing a collection of Picasso paintings at the Centre d’Art La Malmaison, well located along La Croissette overlooking the sea.

Formerly part of the 19th-century Grand Hôtel, today La Malmaison is the only pavilion of the original structure that remains.  The hotel was demolished in the 1950s and rebuilt in 1963, but the intimate rooms of La Malmaison have hosted painting exhibitions since 1945.

Carlton Hotel along La Croisette, Cannes

The Carlton Hotel – also on La Croisette in Cannes – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

The Pablo Picasso masterpieces are on loan from Paris’ Musée National Picasso, and the exhibit includes the Spanish artist’s eclectic creations, as well as a series of André Villers photographs that trace Picasso’s life on the French Riviera. 

 

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

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

 

 

 

France Through Artisans’ Visions

Rich French jacquard fabrics

Elegant French jacquard fabrics light up a room

Recently, a sweet young girl of eleven was visiting our home.  She expressed her interest in art, and naturally our conversation turned to France.  I explained that the artisans of countries throughout the world leave their signature, while they evoke the heritage of their areas.

Before long, I was walking through our home and opening drawers to show her French fabrics.  Toile tells stories of peasantry or nobility, of Chinese dynasties or French royalty in many different colors.   Provencal prints reflect the ever-present sunshine and vibrant colors of the land.  Faïence does the same and traces artisan designs back through the ages with primitive images of men and women.

We looked at the front and back sides of intricately woven jacquards and spoke of the pride that artisans invest in their work.  We told her of the sweet cobbler we talked with in Aix-en-Provence.  She was a 4th-generation shoemaker; who created stylish suede sandals and other designs, while drawing from the heritage of her great grandfather.

I showed her a piece of pottery from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where my daughter and I wandered through one after another shop with faïence designs dating back through several centuries.  A rushing mountain stream divides the village, where medieval houses ‘listen’ to the sound of the river, and high above the village Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel dates to the days of Charlemagne in the 8thcentury.

Faience Plate from Moustiers Sainte-Marie

We looked at a lovely passmenterie purse, intricately created from elegant braids by Le Prince du Sud and vibrant silk pillows that presented the works of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Modigliani.  In a half hour’s time, we had virtually toured France and had seen the country through the eyes of her artisans.  That’s a very special tour to take, when you allow the colors and spirit of the country to show you her heart.

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

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

A Week in Colorful Roussillon

Fascinating ochre cliffs of Roussillon

Fascinating ochre cliffs of Roussillon

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

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

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

Countryside vacation rental in Roussillon
Countryside vacation rental in Roussillon

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

 

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

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

Sharing Your Love of France

A visit to the Louvre - Bien sur! Paris

A visit to the Louvre - bien sur!

Three years after my first visit to France, I was able to fulfill an important dream – to take my daughter to my favorite place.  She was the ideal traveler, willing to try everything and delighted with every sight, scent and taste she encountered.  We stayed with our friend in her 5th-floor apartment overlooking boulevard Saint-Marcel.

Our first day in Paris seemed to last 36 hours – wine on Place Contrescarpe, a visit to Jardin du Luxembourg, walking by the Seine, watching the bateaus along the river, out for the evening at a concert and wine bar.

And we travel for a long weekend, taking the TGV to Avignon and driving to our hearts’ content.  We see Gordes and Roussillon, stay in Aix-en-Provence, make our way to Moustiers Sainte-Marie and down to the Mediterranean for brief visits to Monaco and Eze.  On the long train trip back to Paris, we had plenty of time to remember the absolute wonder of sharing special places with someone you love.

 

A lovely park near the Grimaldi Palace
A lovely park near the Grimaldi Palace

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

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

 

Vençois Fête Celebrates Many Cultures

Vence Cultural Festival in France

Cultural Festival in Historic Vence

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, the Vençois (the people of Vence) will soon host a cultural and gastronomic event in their historic city center.  Locals and visitors will celebrate an eclectic mix representing many countries – Algeria, Cameroun, Colombia, Great Britain, Madagascar, Morocco, Mexico, Nicaragua, Portugal, Tunisia and Venezuela.

Taking place Saturday, May 19, all activities are free and will be centered around Place Clemenceau and the Cahours passage.  The festival will include artisan displays, culinary tastings, folk dances and traditional music from participating countries.  We would love to be there!

Make today a special Sunday with your friends and family.

 

 

 

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

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

Provençal Weekend, Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Cobblestone streets of Saint-Paul-de Vence, France

Cobblestone streets of Saint-Paul-de Vence

In the “good news-bad news” department, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a lovely fortified village, perched like a crown jewel on a spur between two valleys with views of the Mediterranean. The flip side of that shiny coin is that so many tourists are drawn to the village. Even in so-called “shoulder” seasons the pedestrian lanes are filled with visitors, so we opt to stay at the Hotel Miramar in the charming commune of Vence.  The hotel was an excellent choice – formerly an ancient manor and reasonably priced with spectacular mountain and sea views from the elegant terrace.

We were able to enjoy the best of both worlds – the quiet relaxation of Vence and the stimulating artistic and medieval sights of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Both communes share a history rich with artists like Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse, as well as authors Nostradamus (who referred to the town as “Garden of Vence, marvel of Provence”) and D.H. Lawrence. Clearly the beautiful surroundings inspire talent. Several contemporary sculptures capture our attention in Saint-Paul, and the pedestrian lanes and winding steps make for delightful shopping and sightseeing.

In Vence, five medieval “portes”, dating to the 13th century and beyond, are gateways through the walled buildings of the old town. We lunch at a terrace café along Place Clémenceau to watch the lively bustle around the square. The village fountains are particularly enchanting, located throughout the old town and fed by the clear mineral water of “La Foux” river. The Place Peyra fountain has a marble plaque that lists the various minerals and underscores the reason the water is so highly regarded. Often people with bottles form lines to take the water home. One of the most beautiful local sights is a short walk from the town center. Across the bridge over the Foux River is Chapelle Matisse, who decorated the masterpiece from 1947 to 1951.

Contemporary-sculpture-Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Contemporary sculpture, Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Saint-Paul-de-Vence also is quite a beautiful walled village of primarily 16th and 17th century houses. Discovered in 1920 by Signac, Modigliani, Bonnard and Soutine, Saint-Paul has long attracted contemporary artists to quaint cobbled streets and spectacular scenic views. At the western edge of town, we stopped for dinner at the Malabar restaurant – a perfect choice for fresh Provençal food in a charming, hospitable atmosphere.

 
We’d love to hear from you!

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Dining With Sheep In Provence

A pleasant dining spot for lunch

My Parisian friend and I took off from the city for a weekend in Provence.  We were in our wandering mode on a Sunday in March, when we happened upon an incredible little jewel of a village –Tourtour.   We drove past a welcoming old fountain through an arch to arrive in a lovely square shaded by huge old olive trees.

Perfectly timed for lunch, we made our way to a little café and found ourselves really in luck, as there was a quiet little terrace in the back overlooking the Maures Massif.  Poised at 635 meters (about 2100 feet), Tourtour deserves the nickname “village dans le ciel” (the village in the sky of Provence).  During lunch we began to hear the tinkling of bells below us.  I looked over the stone wall to see a little family of sheep grazing on the meadow below the terrace – rather a pastoral sight in the quiet of this picturesque village.

Grazing sheep joined us for lunch

After lunch, we meandered a bit, winding our way past the square through narrow streets, ancient fountains to the Church of Saint-Denis.  The spectacular view from the church looks out on vineyards and lavender fields, pine trees and Mont Ventoux.  On a clear day, they say you can even see the Mediterranean.

At the center of the village a 16th-century castle with massive round towers looms above the square and houses the Mairie.  Charming Provençal houses with thick old doors and tiled roofs add to the pleasure of our brief discovery tour.  Later, we learn that enormous elms originally framed the village square, planted in 1638, when Anne d’Atriche passed through on her way to Cotignac.  When the elms died out, the grand olive trees were imported from Italy to take their place.

We continued on our weekend, richer for having shared a piece of our day on the sunlit terrace and in the streets of Tourtour.

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

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

Festival d’Avignon – 66th Year!

Come along to the wedding!

If you are planning a trip to France this summer, you might want to include Avignon on your agenda.  The world-renowned Festival d’Avignon kicks off on July 7 and runs through July 28, when the streets and performance venues, the hotels and restaurants will be a constant buzz of creative activity.  And obviously, Avignon knows very well how to present a festival, as this will be their 66th year of hosting the events.  The Pope’s Palace was the first festival venue in 1947, when Jean Vilar presented three stage creations; and an exhibition of contemporary paintings and sculptures also was presented at the same time and locale.

The spirit of the city during the Festival might best be described as playful pandemonium.  Faux wedding parties saunter through the street, perhaps asking you to step in as bride or groom.  Or a magician wrapped in chains will miraculously free himself and request volunteers to be similarly chained.  All of this lighthearted nonsense is intended to draw you to their performances and shows.  Each year about 35 to 40 performances, many premieres in France, are presented in about 20 venues in Avignon.

Cha- cha- chain, chain of fools

Be sure to plan ahead, as accommodations can be hard to find.  Ironically, friends advised us against going to Avignon during the Festival, precisely because of the relative pandemonium; but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  When creative French folks “throw a party” … or a festival … you can be sure there’s comedy and mystique around every corner.

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

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

 

Returning to Roussillon

Roussillon's dramatic ochre quarry

One of the great appeals of Roussillon are the ochre mines below the village, with curious rock formations and splashes of white, orange and red soil and rock mixtures.  But it seems less ochre and more “magnet” that lures us, as we don’t seem to be able to visit the Luberon without stopping in Roussillon.

At most, though, we spend a couple of hours browsing through shops, sightseeing and picking a scenic outdoor café for lunch.  The entire village seems ablaze with the ochre and rust colors and colorful accents, beautiful flowers and shaded cafes.

On our next visit, we’ll change our travel strategy to stay in the small village rather than in a larger city like Avignon.  We want to feel the quiet descend over the village, as nightfall nears.  We’ve found the perfect place – Le Clos de la Glycine in the heart of the village, with lovely rooms overlooking the valley.  We’ll choose one with our own private terrace and panoramic view, the perfect spot to begin our day with breakfast.

The shops and galleries and winding village lanes are wonderful to explore, filled with bright baskets and pottery and lazy cats curled in the shade of a windowsill. We’ll stop on the square at the top by the Church of Saint-Michel, where we once spread our picnic to watch over the lively Hotel de Ville square.

Quaint and colorful village in the Luberon

On a Saturday, when household chores beckon and projects loom in the week ahead, I can’t think of a better trip to imagine and plan.

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

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

 

Retreat to Perfection in Gordes

The breathtaking approach to Gordes

Gordes.  It’s one of those places you visit in your mind, when you can’t sleep and want to fill your spirit with peace and calm and unspoiled beauty.  I push away my covetous feelings about those who enjoy life there on a daily basis, telling myself that such an experience might spoil the charm, might make me numb to the everyday pleasure of such a quaint and quiet place.  But that’s too poetic.  The fact that Gordes now is such a renowned beauty, a revered stop on the path of tourism, makes those thoughts a bit nostalgic.  There’s only so much room for tourists, and at night I imagine the village quiet, tucked in and looking over the Luberon valley under a blanket of stars.

In fact, that thought is so enticing, I have looked and found the perfect place to stay – Les Bories & Spa. On a “mental voyage” one can skip the tiresome problem of figuring out what to pack and how to plan the easiest way through all of those security checks.  Perhaps we’ll take the TGV from Paris to Avignon, rent a car and in no time arrive at Les Bories.  Our room is simply elegant and understated with a private terrace overlooking the hills.   We’ll be able to dine poolside under crisp canvas umbrellas and explore the village and countryside at our leisure.  It’s ever so easy to understand the lure of Gordes, poised at is with the central 12th-century castle and filled with winding cobblestone lanes.

Charming cobblestone lanes of Gordes

After all of our discoveries, we can return to our tranquil hotel retreat for a glass of wine by the fountain.  Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

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

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

The Pleasure of Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct near Nimes

We love the juxtaposition of oddly paired things.  As we left Nimes and headed toward Pont du Gard – “you must see this bridge,” the hotelier told us – we had no concept of what lay ahead.

We live in Florida.  We have enjoyed visits to Saint Augustine – the oldest city in the United States, soon to celebrate its 450th birthday in 2015.  And now we are en route to the Roman aqueduct that spreads across the gorges of the Gardon River, the last Rhone tributary, before the mighty river flows to the Mediterranean.

Now a UNESCO-anointed World Heritage site, the Pont du Gard is part of a natural, diverse landscape – “sauvage” (wild), as the French would describe the area.  And the aqueduct was constructed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D.  That fact merely offers some perspective about our ‘oldest city’.

We pull into the parking lot, certainly not the first to visit this revered place on a warm day in July.  It is the time of migration from the cities of France to the countryside, and it also is the peak of worldwide visitors to one of the most beautiful countries on this planet.  While families queue up for snacks and drinks at the visitors’ center, we wander down the path to the grand bridge.

Enjoying old and new on a summer day

“Jump!”

And when we arrive to see this centuries-old edifice, it is the juxtaposition that strikes us.   In the foreground, the aqueduct rises over 160 feet – the world’s largest – with graceful arches poised above the river.  In the background, girls and boys jump from riverside ledges into the cool, inviting water; while kayakers and canoers paddle under the bridge.  What a delightful mix of heritage and history with joyful celebration of a warm summer day.

We “get” the fact that Pont du Gard is an architectural marvel, yet another sign of Roman excellence in design and construction.  Perhaps more important, we understand the distinct pleasure of standing in the remote countryside of southern France with a masterpiece before us and a swell of happy swimmers and boaters beneath the aqueduct.  While we dipped our toes into the river, we had one regret.  We should have worn our swimsuits and brought a towel.

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

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


Luxury Easter Chocolates
 

 

Musée d’Orange – History & Art

Pierre Hébert Bronze Statue of Adrien Gasparin - © Gromelle Grand angle

Statues never fail to lure me, to capture me in their exquisite, fluid lines.  One such bronze gentleman takes residence in the Musée d’Orange.  In fact an exact reproduction, the statuette captures the contemplative stance of the famous agronomist Adrien de Gasparin, who was born in Orange in 1783 and died there in 1862.  In yet another sad reminder of the sacrilege of war, Pierre Hébert ‘s original full-scale bronze statue was melted by the Germans in 1942 to be used in the manufacture of munitions.

Our recent post about the Roman Theatre of Orange promised an encore, and here we fulfill that pledge.  Just opposite the theatre is an 18th century mansion that has served as home to the Musée d’Orange for nearly 80 years.  The museum is a natural complement for Theatre visitors to experience a vision of Imperial Orange and a rich collection of furniture and objets d’art.

Many elements that originally decorated the theatre stage wall are on display – eagles, amazons, centaurs and fragments of friezes.  The 1st century AD Roman cadastre illustrates the Roman occupation of the Narbonne area in the Gallo-Roman period.  Engraved in 77 AD, the remarkably preserved marble plaques represent the most complete cadastre ever discovered and are part of a complete revision of land ownership during the rule of Emperor Vespasian.

Salle des Wetter – © culturespaces

An entire room is devoted to the Swiss manufacturer Wetter, who founded a mill in Orange on the banks of the Meyne River.  The magnificent paintings that decorate the room were commissioned to decorate the lounge of the mill director and offer a glimpse of the life of “Indian” cotton mills at the end of the 18th century.  It was the French East India Company that brought the first cloths of painted cotton from India to Europe, where they proved very popular with affluent classes.

The museum not only is rich in artifacts and works of art, it seems a “living history lesson” with a unique vision of times we shall never experience.

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

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

 

Théâtre Antique & Musée d’Orange

Théâtre Antique d'Orange - © Gromelle Grand Angle

It is acknowledged to be the best preserved theatre in Europe.  It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  And it is in France.  Located in the heart of the Rhône Valley, the Roman Theatre of Orange is unquestionably one of the finest remnants of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire.

King Louis XIV described the theatre’s exterior façade as, “The finest wall in my kingdom”.  The sheer size of the wall is staggering – nearly 103 meters in length, 1.80 meters thick and 37 meters high (338 feet x 5.9 feet x 121 feet).  The 3-level façade includes stage and secondary doors and a blind arcade with arches in line with towers at either side of the stage.

The stage wall design was critical to proper sound direction and includes the theatre’s only distinct architectural décor.  Some of the theatre’s magnificent features include a frieze decorated with centaurs and niches with statues of Augustus and Apollo.

Profiling the background of a place that has been around since 36 BC requires pick-and-choose fact paring and a PhD in history, but I’ll do my best!  A few years after Julius Caesar conquered all of Gaul, veterans of his 2nd Gallic legion founded Orange.

In the 1st century AD, the Theatre of Orange was constructed under the reign of Emperor Augustus.  The fact that such buildings still remain throughout France is a testament to Roman architectural and building expertise.  The Romans hollowed out an existing hillside to build the theatre terraces against Saint-Eutrope hill.

Les Chorégies performance

The traditional theatre design included tiered seats, an orchestra, stage and stage wall. Seating for theatre performances was in strict accordance with rank and status, with VIPs in civic and military life closest to the stage, and persona non grata at the back.

Theatre show days literally were just that – all day presentations of mimes, poetry readings, comedies and pantomimes acting out tragic, epic and farcical stories.  Theatre performances evolved to the spectacular, with increasingly bloody scenes.

And thus came the downfall for all such theatres.  With the advent of Christianity in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine and Theodosius converted to Christianity and made it the official religion.  Rapidly, entertainment and pagan worship were banned, temples demolished and theatres closed. Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the theatre was pillaged, turned into an outpost and even used as a prison.

It did not return to its original purpose until 1825, when the inspector of Monuments Historiques initiated a mammoth renovation program. From 1869, Roman Festivals attracted more than 10,000 spectators to the shows, which later would become known as “Chorégies” hosting one celebrity after another.  Sarah Bernhardt was said to have given one of her finest performances there in 1903.  In 1971 the “Nouvelles Chorégies” introduced the opera era with the world’s greatest opera singers performing on the famous stage with the fabulous acoustics.

Today, thousands of visitors from throughout the world enjoy performances in the theatre and exhibits in the Musée d’Orange.  More about the Musée another day!

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

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

La Roque-sur-Cèze – Parfait !

La Roque-sur-Cèze

We live in a land of nondescript architecture; where houses of the 60’s clump together in concrete blocks, and contemporary homes tend to be cookie-cutter stucco halls of boredom. That’s so snobbish of me, I guess. France has enlightened and spoiled me.

C’est la vie – I will take a vacation today, a lovely trip in my mind to all of those things I love – beautiful ancient architecture, quaint cobbled streets, river views and terrace dining. We shall enjoy the day in La Roque-sur-Cèze, one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

River Cèze and Cascades du Sautadet

We’ll walk along the sloping village streets among creamy stone buildings. At the peak, we’ll look out over the river Cèze and Cascades du Sautadet. And we’ll stop for a pleasant lunch at Le Mas du Belier for veal in an ancient mustard sauce, a nice glass of dry, white wine and a plate of creamy cheeses. Parfait!

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

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

Château des-Baux-de-Provence

Baux Chapelle Saint-Blaise - © C. Recoura

We recently watched a rather quirky movie – The Advocate – that immersed us in 15th-century medieval France.  Colin Firth played a young lawyer escaping urban Paris for a simpler life in the country, where he would serve as the public defender in a remote French province. He found that life to be far from simple – a life in which he found himself defending a gypsy-owned pig arrested for the murder of a young boy.  He was surrounded by a world of corruption, religious intrigue, price-fixing, prostitution and secret societies.

And that snapshot of history underscores the reality of medieval life in and around Les-Baux-de-Provence.  For any history lover, this Arles-Avignon-Nimes area is a Utopian collection of well-preserved Gallo-Roman ruins; but the Château ruins provide fascinating views of the tumultuous times and ever-changing politics of the era.

I tend to absorb the romance of a location, the beautiful hilltop village with captivating views over the Alpilles foothills, the chapel always anchoring the life of the people.  My husband, though, is of a military mindset, immediately understanding the strategic advantage of fortified hilltops.

Life at the Château was hardly an idyllic sanctuary.  Wander through the ruins of Les-Baux-de-Provence today, and you tread on ground that has known far more discord than peace.  The  “Médievales des Baux” demonstrate the weapons of war – catapult shooting from the largest trebuchet in France, crossbow shooting with professional archers, and other weaponry and techniques used in medieval combat.

Charloun monument – © C. Recoura

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you see the Château Chapel (the oldest remains of Roman structures on the site), the Chapel of Saint-Blaise and the cemetery looking over the valleys and abandoned quarries.  On a promontory, is a statue of Charles Rieu (1846 – 1924), “Charloun dou Paradou”, a poet and bard of Les Baux.

The ruins include portions of the Château keep, that exemplifies the best of military architecture.  Decorative remnants along the high walls include sculpted friezes of Saint Michael slaying the dragon and a griffon; and a Gallo-Roman votive at the base includes a relief of the Trémaié (or Three Marys).

The Château, keep, towers and hospital remind of us a time that found warlords participating in merry festivals one week and off to war the next, a time when troubadours and poets provided a gentle side to life.  And in the midst of all of the paraphernalia of conflict and fortification, the panoramic views in every direction bring color and a sense of peace.

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

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

Preservation Versus Progress – France

Limestone cliffs meet deep blue water, Les Calanques

In a country with such diverse resources and natural beauty, France takes great interest in protecting its natural environments.  Officially, France has 9 designated National Parks – soon to be 10 with the addition of Les Calanques this year, the first to be added since 1979.

That development alone was ten years in the planning, but interim steps were taken to preserve the dramatic cliffs and inlets along the Mediterranean from overuse by hikers and tourists and particularly from the monstrous threat of fire during dry seasons and high winds.

In addition to the National Parks, some 45 Regional Parks, such as the Camargue between the Rhone and Petite Rhone Rivers, manage and monitor 13 percent of all French territory, inhabited by 3 million people.

And therein lies the critical need for balance – of people’s needs versus environmental protection, of economic progress versus preservation of the life and history of a region, of encouraging the lifeblood of tourism versus spoiling the natural sites they want to visit.

In fact, the Camargue Regional Park provides an excellent example.  Without “taking sides”, we can point to the sometimes divisive relationships between the ‘distant bureaucrats’ and those who call the Camargue their home.  For generations, the saltier (salt farmers) and rice farmers have vied with one another, and the growth in tourism only added fuel to that fire.  But the Regional Park serves to protect the unique structures, the salt marshes and inland lakes and the stunning array of flora and fauna that thrive in the Camargue.

Protected … and perfect for enjoying

The Calanques also represent a stunning treasury of prehistoric caves, dramatic limestone cliffs, turquoise inlets and highland meadows and an especially precious marine life. The marine area is nearly five times the protected land area, and a buffer zone will further protect Les Calanques.

Factor in the dynamic city of Marseilles, the many seaside villages, the influx of tourists and extensive ship travel – from sleek yachts and mammoth cruise ships to local fishermen and tour guides – the sea and adjacent land is under constant assault from natural forces and human activity.

And it is Les Calanques National Park that will focus special interest on protecting these natural treasures against urbanization, fires and marine pollution not to mention the natural deterioration.

If you have ever had the privilege of looking toward the Calanques from a boat or from an inlet or from a rocky outcropping, you know how worthwhile it is to safeguard this and other areas of natural beauty and heritage for all of the generations to come.

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

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

An Elegant Retreat Near Avignon

Le Prieuré, Villeneuve-lès-Avigon

Some things deserve to be presented and discussed without the tawdry business of mentioning prices.  Let’s just assume that ‘budget’ is not part of our vocabulary, as we choose a magical weekend quite near Avignon.  Up front, I have to acknowledge that there are some lovely, refined manoirs within the storied walls of old Avignon; but just to experience a private setting, with easy access to the historic area, we’ll give the nod to Le Prieuré just across the Rhône in Villeneuve- lès- Avignon.  The owners promise a stay that is both authentic and elegant.

You’ll first want to book your stay at Le Prieuré, though keep in mind their seasonal closure may run to mid March, 2012.  A member of the distinguished Relais & Chateaux collection of luxury hotels and restaurants, Le Prieuré is a former 15th-century convent, magically transformed into a welcoming hotel and perfumed by the priests’ trellised garden of roses and wisteria. Lavish Provençal style mixes with contemporary convenience in the carefully restored rooms and suites, that guarantee an intimate and comfortable stay.

The restaurant reinforces the setting with savory Provençal dishes.  Would you care to try the distinguished chef’s “Fillet of John Dory baked with salty butter and artichockes from Provence”?   The inventive cuisine delivers a flavorful mix of Mediterranean and regional dishes with fresh ingredients from the surrounding area. Yes, you’ll want to spend many leisurely moments in your chosen retreat, but let’s explore Villeneuve.

Fort Saint-André – 14th century fortified wall constructed to defend access to the Languedoc and protect the Benedictine Abbey – © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

Apparently, when the pope resided in Avignon, the cardinals had the good taste to choose Villeneuve for their opulent estates.  The village overlooks the river with striking views of Avignon from a more subdued and serene pace of life.

You may be surprised at the rich heritage and treasures in the village.  The dominant tower on the skyline – Fort Saint André and the Philippe le Bel Tower – remind us of Avignon’s alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and the need to protect the Benedictine abbey and town.  And the municipal museum in the Pierre-de-Luxembourg mansion displays exceptional art, notably religious works from ivory carvings to 17th century paintings.

The charming village becomes the focal point for performances and festivals throughout the year; due to their strategic location where Provence, la Camargue and Languedoc come together. Of course, you will visit the lovely old streets of Avignon to enjoy its’ special blend of history, striking architecture and inviting collection of shops and restaurants.

But the delight comes with your return from those lively moments to seal each and every memory with a quiet glass of wine on the balcony.

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

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

Gaugin, Van Gogh, Painters of Colour

 

Gaugin's work spills through the quarry - © G. Iannuzzi

At the Carrières de Lumières,  the new high-performance technology introduced by Culturespaces provides visitors with an extraordinary audio visual journey, covering even the floor of the quarry with a vast carpet of images.  Opening March 30, the premier show is “Gaugin, Van Gogh, Painters of Colour”, an extravaganza linking the careers of Paul Gaugin and Vincent Van Gogh to demonstrate their uniquely different ways of using color.  Gaugin tended toward well-defined areas of flat color, while Van Gogh layered vibrant colors, providing a relief effect to his paintings.

“…Like dreaming with your eyes open.”

That was Gianfranco Iannuzzi’s response, when asked why visitors should come and see the show.  The producer went on to say, “And to discover – or rediscover – the work of these two exceptional artists, through a total immersion in colour.”

Their artistic journeys shared similarities.  Both began with landscape paintings in northern Europe, before returning to the light-filled landscape of the South of France.  Gaugin later sought inspiration in the Pacific islands, while Van Gogh returned to northern France.

Seven sequences illuminate the colorful world of the two painters: Van Gogh, the Northern Prelude, focuses on the austere light and somber colors depicting ordinary people in harsh living conditions; while Gauguin in Pont-Aven, A New Theory of Picture, follows Gaugin’s work in Brittany.  The unique culture and broad and vivid landscapes led Gaugin to develop a new minimalist theory of painting, with simplified forms and expanses of color that captured only essential details.

Van Gogh’s projected works – © G. Iannuzzi

Gauguin & Van Gogh’s Correspondence links the painters through their correspondence.  We see them come together, collaborate and separate.  The Encounter at Arles brought the two painters together for the first time in the land of light and warm colors of southern France.  Gauguin joined Van Gogh’s ‘Studio of the South’ outside of Arles, but it was a partnership marked by insurmountable differences, a mix of respect and disdain.  Gaugin departed after just two months in Arles.

Gauguin in the Pacific Islands, Back to Eden, profiles Gaugin’s prolific work in Tahiti, where he produced a large number of paintings, sculptures and engravings in and around Papeete.  Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy, Under the Southern Sun finds the painter in a blend of creative genius and madness.  His work in Provence shimmers with powerful, dark skies and cypress and olive trees with strong lines, vivid color and thick texture.  In 1889, he committed himself to the asylum in Saint-Rémy, where he continued to exercise his talent and imagination with brightly colored paintings and the unique angles featured in his famous “The Starry Night” and “Cypresses” series. The Auvers-sur-Oise Plain is the final chapter of Van Gogh’s artistry, where he crowned his body of work with another 77 paintings filled with emotional images, stormy skies and nature. The show is a lifelike journey through the lives of two masterful painters, an exposition made even more powerful through the extraordinary artistic production.

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

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

 

Production of the show  © G. Iannuzzi M. Siccardi

 

 

3 More Reasons to Visit Provence

 

Flower market, Aix-en-Provence

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

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

Along the rocky seafront by Saint Clair

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

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

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

Why Visit Provence? Color!!!

The vivid colors of Roussillon

There have been far too many invasions of France with devastating effects, but Provence experienced a different sort of invasion.  When Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence was published in 1989, within a year the word had spread like wild fire; and within 20 years, the book had sold 6 million copies!  Those who had previously enjoyed their provincial country life and those who had called Provence their second quiet home found the flood of tourists and property seekers overwhelming.  Even the Mayles had busloads of tourists dropping by their home in Ménerbes!

But I’ve gotten a bit off topic, haven’t I?  After all, I’ve not tangled with a truffle smuggler nor redone a Provençal home at the whimsy of local contractor’s schedules.  What immediately comes to mind about Provence is one attribute with two parts – color.  The blue skies, mustard-colored fields, spectacular rows of lavender, ancient olive trees and the rich red and ochre layers of soil near Roussillon. The play of light over the rainbow of landscape colors defies description; it simply seeps into your spirit, never to leave again.

The second part of the color equation is in the products that reflect the land.  Cheerful provincial linens burst with orange, blue, red, green and yellow threads.  Glazed potteries do the same, utilizing all of the vivid pigments from the land.  Red-tiled roofs top pastel and earth-red homes, while traditional brightly-colored shutters shield from the southern sun.

Enchanting fields of lavender

Provence eludes capture; it is a wandering place, neither a department nor an administrative region, officially part of “Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur.”   Where does one begin and the other end?  Perhaps, it is more a state of mind and heart, a reflection of the artists who have tried to capture her beauty or the writers who have reached for words to describe her diversity.  Some things simply cannot be defined.

 

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

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

A Relaxing Provençal Weekend

 

Sweeping views from the top of Mont Ventoux - © ATOUT FRANCE/R-Cast

A weekend visit to one of the most beautiful villages of France offers a breath of fresh air that restores your spirit, sanity and appreciation for the pastoral beauty of the countryside.  Venasque, a small village of about 1,000 residents, perches on sheer rock outcroppings with a panoramic view towards Mount Ventoux.

Just 31 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Avignon, Venasque overlooks the valley of the river Nesque and is the first village built around the mount of Vaucluse.  It shares the countryside in the heart of Provence with nearby Carpentras, Isle sur La Sorgue and Gordes, to name just a “tip” of the iceberg of charm in a region that is riddled with abundant vineyards and orchards, lively markets and ancient historical sites.

Be prepared for a pleasant blend of outdoor enjoyment, art and craft exhibits, petite shops and historic exploration.  Begin in the small village with the starkly beautiful 5th century baptistery – Le Prieure de Saint-Pierre-Les-Thermes and the church of Notre Dame.  The beautiful church dates to the 13th century with a high bell tower overlooking the valley. Three large Saracen towers are classified historic sites and add to the imposing, thick-walled fortification.

Historic Saracen Towers, Venasque

Wander from the village center up the Chemin de Peiriere to the highest point overlooking the valley and Mount Ventoux.  In fact, you should drive or cycle up to the latter for a panoramic view at 1890 meters (6200 feet).  Discover a beautiful and varied landscape in the Gorges de la Nesque that cut through the mountains between Mont Ventoux to the north and Plateau de Vaucluse.  The Nesque River flows through valleys and gorges, dropping some 300 meters (984 feet), as it drops through the dramatic countryside.

A few excursions will add to the pleasure of your stay.  Enjoy an afternoon trip to Gordes and the nearby 12th-century Cistercian Abbey Notre-Dame-de-Sénanque. Surrounded by lavender fields, the church is in the form of a tau cross with the apse extending beyond the outer walls.  The village of Gordes is one of the most picturesque in Provence with a delightful collection of shops, galleries, studios and bistros.

Take in the authentic French market in Carpentras on Friday morning and the Sunday market and antique fair in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.   After a delightful round of antique shops, we stopped for lunch at a charming crêperie – Bistrot de L’Industrie.  On the outdoor terrace, we feasted on wild mushroom crêpes and topped our meal with a Grand Marnier crêpe.  Délicieux!
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Sensory Saint Rémy de Provence

Shaded Place Jules Pelissier, Saint-Rémy

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a seductress and perfect partner to her surrounding landscape.  Before you even enter this Provençal jewel, take a slow drive or bicycle ride south from Avignon for a little over ten sensory miles of color, perfume and discovery.  Acres of vivid lavender and sunflower fields.  Silver olive trees, craggy peaks and cypress trees.  Cows and goats and quiet farmhouses with fat rolls of hay stretch across the land.

Saint Rémy is a welcoming little town of some 10,000 fortunate residents.  They – and many visitors – enjoy the blend of beautifully-restored homes and ancient ruins, shaded squares and charming boutiques.

Settle into your chosen lodging and prepare for a holiday you will never forget!  It’s time to discover the birthplace of Nostradamus and the refuge of Vincent Van Gogh.  It was in Saint-Rémy that Van Gogh painted two of his most famous works – Cypresses and Self Portrait.

We were especially enamored with the many faces of the village.  Ancient walls and arched portals invite you to their circle of petite shops, enchanting bistros, art and Gallo-Roman history.  We pass through the Port Saint-Paul entry to be greeted by the lovely 19th century dolphin fountain, set beneath towering plane trees in Place Jules Pelissier.

We thread our way through narrow, winding streets in the old city to find one after another of the classic 17th and 18th century homes that have been converted to museums and galleries. With the flair of Parisian boutiques, elegant shops display regional products from colorful pottery and fine linens to artisan jewelry and aromatic Provençal products.

Roman mausoleum dates to 30 – 20 B.C.

At the southern edge of the city, we gain perspective about our small slice of time on earth!  Glanum is one of the oldest archeological sites in Europe.  Excavations reveal remnants of a long residential avenue, Gallo-Roman ruins and natural spring that date to the 3rd century BC.  L’Arc de Triomphe and the Mausolee des Antiques are two important monuments adjacent to the ruins.

At the end of the day, we pass by countless bistros and brasseries along Saint-Rémy streets, until the Bistro des Alpilles captured our attention.  We chose the shaded terrace to enjoy exceptional regional cuisine, while we recaptured the discoveries of our day.  C’est merveilleux!

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

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


Update your maps at Navteq

 

 

Roman Ruins by the Massif l’Estérel

 

The Corniche d’Or road along Massif de l’Estérel – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

Just one of the many jewels that sparkle through Provence is the historic city of Fréjus. Created as a trading post by Julius Caesar in the first century, the city grew to become second only to Ostie as a Roman port and served as a vital naval base, until the fall of Nero.  Though the victim of countless invasions through the centuries, today Fréjus enjoys an exceptional mix of history, art and culture and an enticing proximity to the spectacular coasts along the Massif Estérel.

Among the 29 protected historic monuments from Roman and Medieval times are an elliptical arena, fragments of a Roman aqueduct and theatre, and a striking pink sandstone cathedral.  Originally holding 12,000 spectators, the arena seating has been restored for the enjoyment of concerts and the occasional bull fight during the summer.  To really explore the area, it’s best to go either in April or May or in October, when the swollen summer holiday crowds have abandoned the Mediterranean.

The Medieval area centers around Place Formige in the fortified Cité Épiscopale, where you will discover the Cathédrale Notre Dame, the Bishop’s palace, cloisters and 5th century baptistry.  The cloisters and gardens have been beautifully restored, and the adjacent Musée Archéologique exhibits Roman artifacts.

Aqueduct Park, Fréjus

Once you have sated your appetite for history, it’s time to pack a picnic and head east along the magnificent coast.  The ancient mountain range of the Massif de l’Estérel offers spectacular vistas of rugged, red rocks plunging into the striking blue waters of the Mediterranean.  The hardy vegetation is the stuff of music – sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender and juniper.

After driving along the coastal road that winds among bougainvillea-laden walls and jagged red ridges, find your perfect overlook to enjoy a picnic by the sea.  Off in the distance, you’ll see sleek white boats cutting through deep blue water, and waves crashing into rocky outcroppings – not sights you’ll readily forget!

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

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

Update your maps at Navteq

Très Chic Artisans in Aix-en-Provence

Gorgeous shoes made entirely by hand

They are called Aixoise, and we were fortunate to spend three nights among them in a city charmed by light and gilded with the ghosts of past genius.  Cézanne drew his life and inspiration here and in the countryside beyond Aix-en-Provence.

In fact, Aix is a virtual reservoir of art and culture, infused with   museums and studios, workshops and galleries.  The main boulevard, Cours Mirabeau, shelters elegant townhomes and graceful fountains under a thick canopy of plane trees – simply one of the most beautiful promenades in France.

During our visit, the progressive Maire (Mayor) continues the artistic tradition, as she leads the way to season after season of enthusiastic support and exposure of emerging and seasoned artisans.  We wandered among the many craft displays along the boulevard in absolute awe of the color and inspiration of their creations.

The chic shoes inspired …

Style – pure, indescribable style – très elegant.   Is it any wonder that a French woman needs only a chic pair of shoes and an elaborately arranged scarf to look like a million bucks!

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

Great fares to Europe and beyond.

An Unusual Request

Giens Photos
This photo of Giens is courtesy of TripAdvisor

With a brief preface, we have an unusual request of our France Daily Photo “family” – you do feel like family to us.  We have been working on a novel for a few years, more intensely at some times than others.  It is set in the Camargue, and centers around the Rond-Points of France, and particularly the same roundabouts in our lives – what we seek from life and how we find it, where we have been, and where we are going, and as important, how we get there.  So today we’re taking one of our famous “turns” to ask you to read a small excerpt, and if you are so inclined, let us know your thoughts.

In the eight months he had lived above Maria,  André had exchanged only greetings and pleasantries, usually words of praise for her cooking or for the darned sock he noticed but had not requested.  She always dismissed the praise with a shrug that flicked through the air like a hand dismissing the unwelcome fly.  This time she asked him to join her.

“Come, Monsieur Andre,” she had called to him.  “It is warm in the square but cool here beneath the arbor.  Have a glass of sangria, here where you still can keep your eyes watchful.”  He waited on her shady terrace, while she mixed their drinks in the kitchen.

She had noticed him looking over the village, quiet, always recognizing the sameness in some, the slight new limp of another, the unknown stranger who might move quietly through the village or try to leave with more than he had on arrival.

“Your friend is ill?” he asked, as she poured his drink from an old Provencal pitcher.  “I haven’t seen her with you in the past couple of days.”

“Anna?  No.  No, Anna makes a trip to a small village near Avignon.  An old friend of a friend, she said.  A man from Holland.”

“Holland!  That must be a real pleasure for her.  She seems to spend most of her time within a few square blocks,” he said.

Maria was quiet a few moments, looking outward toward the church, as if drawing divine guidance about deep mysteries.  “Have you ever seen the old photo Anna carries with her?” she asked.

“I’ve only seen her at the market or here on your terrace.  I’ve never had the occasion to talk with her or to see her photo.  Is it a picture of her family?”

“No, it’s just a small, worn photo she carries in her little prayer book.  She always holds it close to her, tucked in the pocket of her apron or skirt.  A photo of four young girls.  She is one of them.  Beautiful young girls with soft, fair skin and coal dark eyes.  Anna was …”  Maria stopped to sip her sangria.

“She was ten at the time.  Her friends were slightly older.  Anna and two of the girls were gypsies – Romas from the Netherlands.  The fourth from Amsterdam, in her thirteenth year.  Her name was Anne Frank.”

She let the silence settle over them.  “In 1944, they gathered the gypsies with the Jews in Holland.  Hmph,” she shuddered before continuing.  “Gathered.  They herded them together for their journey to the east.”  Andre said nothing, only watched Maria’s eyes looking somewhere in the folds of friendship she shared with Anna.

“There are stories too filled with sorrow to spill across the hearts of others.  Anna keeps her simple life here, but I see her pull the little book from her apron and spread it open with her old fingers.  She just stares with far away eyes.  I’ve learned to be still, until she returns.  Her simple life.  It must be so to carry the weight of those memories.”

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

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

Pines & Pleasures along the Mediterranean

Overlooking Cagnes-sur-Mer from Renoir’s Les Colettes estate - © ATOUT FRANCE/Emmanuel Valentin

Often we feel the need to hurry, to take in as much of France as possible, before the vacation villas and ‘supermarches’ entirely change the face of this beautiful country. Yes, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you especially see the changes along the Cote d’Azur.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive along the Route du Bord de Mer cradled between the SNCF railway and the lovely Mediterranean seashore. Palms and pines dotted the shoreline, while the jagged peaks of Mercantour lay ahead in the distance. Indeed, there are still many miles of beauty to enjoy. But what is THAT now ahead of us?

We saw this wave-like enormous apparition for miles before we could actually tell what it was – the Maeva Residence Le Baronnet Marina Baie des Anges. The aparthotel stretches for quite a distance along the beachfront, like a series of whitewashed, resurrected Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. It was all the more a surprising sight, when we learned that the upper village held medieval charm, lovely frescoes and the Escoffier Museum of Culinary Arts. But such is the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary in the changing landscape.

Gorgeous Cote d’Azur beaches

We drove a little further east to stay the night in Cagnes-sur-Mer, another dual personality town. Le Haut de-Cagnes village is poised on a blue-cypressed hill above the seaside fishing port with beautiful views of the sea.  Renoir called it “the place where I want to paint, until the last day of my life,” and that is exactly what he did, living in Les Collettes from 1908 to 1919.

Today, you can visit Musée Renoir & Les Collettes situated in his impressive estate set among ancient olive trees. Two delights, among the many to be enjoyed in the museum, are the bust of Madame Renoir in the entry and the terrace view of Cap d’Antibes from her bedroom. Is it any surprise that the beautiful Provencal countryside has inspired some of the world’s most beautiful works of art?

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Provence – Book, TV Series, Reality

Villages are dressed in rainbows of color

Before our first trip to Provence, we were well immersed in the culture, beauty and idiosyncrasies of the area.  We had indulged ourselves with several viewings of the delightful video set of Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence.

A British advertising executive, Peter, his wife and two dogs, followed their dream with the purchase of a ‘mas’ or farmhouse in the heart of the Lubéron in Provence.   First, in Mayle’s book, and later in the broadcasts, the story of Provençal life flows.  His profiles of French gestures and shrugs, the rhythms of the village, the onset of the mistral winds and the ever-unreliable schedule of workers for his home re-do leave a witty trail of entertaining vignettes.   Naturally, we have the book also and agree with the late Julia Child’s comment, “I really love this book.”

With all of our pent-up anticipation, imagine how much more we enjoyed the reality of Provence.  We loved the quiet side by lazy streams and along spiraling mountain roads.  The sight and aroma of flowing fields of lavender were breathtaking.  We took in the view of the Lubéron from the hilltop village of Gordes, and walked the narrow cobblestone streets reserved for pedestrians.

Les Baux de Provence – © ATOUT FRANCE/Franck Charel

One memorable detour took us to the lovely little village of Tourtour.   We wandered about, until we settled at a terraced café with panoramic views of the countryside.  “What is the tinkling of bells we keep hearing?”  We looked over the stone wall, enclosing the terrace to see several lambs grazing on a little plot below.  A very nice moment, indeed.

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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.

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

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The Massif des Calanques – Cassis

 

The Magnificent Calanques Near Cassis

Simply spectacular!  The Massif des Calanques offers magnificent contrasts for 20 kilometers along the coast from metropolitan Marseilles to the pretty port of Cassis.  Stark white limestone cliffs, dotted with rare plant species and parasol pine forests, run to the ever-changing blue waters of the Mediterranean. 

Ancient river mouths thread their way through the cliffs to form a French version of fjords with coves of soft turquoise waters, so colored because of the limestone.

The area is so popular with rock climbers, hikers and divers, that the Calanques this year will become France’s eighth National park.  Oversight of the park will help to relieve pressure on the environment and regulate access.  One of the best ways to gain a real appreciation of the Calanques is to take one of the boat tours offered at the port.  Tours depart from the harbor and vary in length to take in 3, 5 or 8 Calanques.

The fishing port of Cassis

Tucked between the famous Calanques and the spectacular cliff of Cap Canaille, Cassis itself is a charming seaside fishing port, best visited after the summer rush to enjoy quiet walks through the village and enjoying outdoor cafes overlooking the colorful harbor. The old quarter is a heritage site, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, the market offers wonderful local products – figs and olives, cassis wine, cheese and more – typically Provencal!  For some pleasant views of the village and the pastel buildings along the harbor, take a walk up the hill by the old Château de la Maison des Baux (privately owned). 

 

Stunning views from the cliff

Each year, locals celebrate the Cassis harvest during the last weekend in September, when you can dance to local folk music, join in the parade and enjoy culinary treats and wine tasting. If you don’t visit during the Fête du Vin, worry not one little bit.  Local wine domains offer wine tastings, and you can always pull up your café chair and loll away the time with your very own bottle of the refreshing white Cassis wine.  À votre santé!

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

Exceptional French Rosé Wines

It's almost picking time in France

 

We first discovered delightful French rosés during a late July trip along the Mediterranean.  Often misunderstood in America as a too sweet, “starter” wine for the uninformed, French rosés are the ideal, refreshing warm weather wine – on the dry side with hints of fruit flavors – and a perfect addition to picnics and summer meals.  Rosés now are seen as “all year” wines enjoyed by wine lovers that prefer a light, dry taste.

Begin with the ever-popular Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé produced in the Bandol appellation between Marseille and Toulon.  Imported by Kermit Lynch, the Tempier Rosé  “… is stunning, and lays down a serious argument for not just being one the greatest rosés in the world, but one of the world’s greatest wines,” according to Clark Z. Terry.  Could it be the sun-drenched vineyards that run down to the Mediterranean?  Probably that agreeable climate combined with the experience of a Domaine that has been producing great wines since 1834.

Domaine Tempier Bandol

With your grilled fish, try the Jaboulet Côtes du Rhône Parallèle 45 Rosé that blends Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah grapes to yield a raspberry and strawberry flavor.  The wine is so named for 45th North parallel that runs just 2 kilometres from the Jaboulet cellars in the fertile Rhone Valley.

A little northwest of Avignon, Tavel is a village of 1,600; where the Languedoc nudges up against Provence, and the rose is considered the best in France.  In fact, the area is said to be the cradle of French rosé, where the Tavel wine favored by Louis XIV and Philippe le Bel, thus was ‘crowned’ the Rosé of Kings.  As they say in the industry, if it’s named Tavel, it must be a rosé.  The Chateau Trinquevedel 2008 Tavel Rose makes an excellent choice for its’ deep pink and robust strawberry-spice taste.  Out of five million bottles produced each year, only 200,000 are imported to the United States (Once again, Kermit Lynch is the importer with a savvy selection of Tavel.)

Red grape varietals for Rose

Most rosé wines are made from a red grape varietal that have short contact time with the skins to produce the lighter color.  Sparkling rosés traditionally blend red and white grapes.   According to third-generation winemaker Séverine Lemoine,  “It’s more complex. It’s a wine for consuming all year.”  On top of all of these positive attributes, the majority of French rosés provide good value for the money. The versatility of Rosé wines allows for easy partnering with a variety of foods from ‘surf to turf’.  And there is absolutely nothing to stop you from enjoying a chilled glass of rosé on the porch before dinner!

 

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Gordes – Plus Beaux Village

Popular dining plaza, Gordes

 

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

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

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

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

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

Fountain in the plaza center

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

Should you want an extended visit, you have excellent lodging choices in  lovely vacation homes and hospitable inns.  The selection of restaurants is also exceptional, though many of Gorde’s experiences are expensive to enjoy. 
 
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Gateway to the Verdon Gorge

 

Chapel overlooking Castellane

 

A remarkable sight greets us, as we approach the village of Castellane.  While so many French villages are poised on hilltops, Castellane lies in the valley at the gateway to the Grand Canyon du Verdon; and high above the village, a solitary chapel is silhouetted against the sky.

It was on this inhospitable rocky mount that the Roman town of Petra Castellana was originally built, but the Saracen invasions in the 9th century destroyed the town.  Around 500 years later (guess they didn’t want to rush to decisions here), the inhabitants settled in the more welcoming valley beneath the rock.

The 18th-century chapel – The Chapel Nôtre-Dame-du-Rock – now crowns the rock and watches over the village below.   

We wander about the village, until we slip into a pleasant outdoor café for lunch.  Attractive shops line the pedestrian streets, and pottery cicadas seem to be one of the most popular offerings, as symbols of Provencal folklore.  In the midst of the rue du Mitan, we happen on a common sight in medieval French villages – a beautiful 17th-century fountain crowned with flowers. 

Castellane is a pretty, unassuming village of less than 2,000 residents; who go about their ordinary lives, until the onset of summer.  In July and August, visitors are drawn to the beautiful Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon landscape to enjoy water sports in the remarkable turquoise waters of the Verdon River.  The river dramatically cuts through limestone masses, forming canyon walls up to 700 metres (nearly 2300 feet), making the area a magnet for hikers and climbers. The Verdon empties into Lac Saint-Croix, where kayakers and canoers enjoy the lake and venture into the gorge to explore the limestone caves.  The natural park easily attracts as much attention as America’s Grand Canyon.

 

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Shy Provencal Sunflowers

Just one of Provence's happy sunflowers

 

We drive through the gorgeous Provencal landscape on a summer day, only to come across virtually acres and acres of sunflowers, their shy “heads” turned away from us. Of course, we have to stop for a close look at these huge, happy flowers. How can you not smile, when you see such a lovely sight! 

Further down the lazy lane, we come upon  a village, where a plaque noted Jacques Cousteau had stayed there.  We were amused.  It seems that three men slept in every village and city throughout France – Victor Hugo, Napoleon Bonaparte and Jacques Cousteau.

As shy as a 7th grader at his first dance

 

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NÎMES – GALLO-ROMAN CENTER

Nimes’ beautifully preserved Roman temple

The extraordinarily graceful Square House of Nîmes ushered in the new regime of Augustus, who wanted new sites and special events to underscore his authority. Built around 19 B.C., The Square House bore a gilded inscription to the two young children adopted by Augustus.  (Odd, too, that it was called The Square House – it’s neither square nor a house!)  Officially known as the “Maison Carrée”, the beautifully proportioned building is the only completely preserved ancient temple.  Through the years, the building served as a temple, stables, apartments and a church.

Today, the Maison holds art exhibitions and offers a cutting-edge film that traces the dramatic history of NÎmes.  And through July and August, the square fills on Thursday evenings with craftsmen and antiquaires, painters and musicians – a lively scene to spend an entertaining evening in the shadow of the Maison Carré.

 

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The Simpler Sights of NÎMES

 

Belle Epoque Gallery in Nimes

Though we enjoyed visiting the famous Roman arena and other historic sites in NÎMES, our greatest pleasure came from the simplest of things.  We wandered along tree-lined boulevards and lingered in a square at night to watch the colorful carousel.  We stopped for a pleasant visit in this gorgeous gallery with gilded molding and a stunning glass ceiling. 

During lunch at an outdoor café table, the owner’s little dog perched himself right next to Leo.  He gazed up with a beseeching look, as if to say, “I am the cobbler’s son, and I have no shoes.”  The owner shooed him away and explained, “He is always trying to beg for food.” 

One morning, we rose to a most unusual sight.  On a balcony across from our hotel, a cat looked calmly, but with longing, at a bird in a cage on the balcony next door.  Finally, she grew bored and looked the other way.  Simple pleasures, all tucked away for rainy day musing.

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Provencal Fields of Lavender

The sweet sight and scent of lavender

 

One of the greatest benefits of renting a car to explore France is discovering what lies around the next bend.  It could be a field of sunflowers, mounds of wheat shifting in the wind, as far as your eyes can see.  Or coming across an apparently sleepy little village, only to discover that the entire populace is fixed on the boule tournament in the town square. 

As we were driving from Gap to Lyon, we came across this lovely field of lavender.  Leo pulled over, and we took in the sweet aroma of the fields.  He purchased an armful of lavender that filled the car with heavenly lavender scent for the rest of our trip.

Provence is the lavender capital, as it were, where the blue fields run wild from mid-June to early August.  Beyond the heady visual feast and sweet scents, lavender has moved from linen sachets and bath products to providing its’ unique taste to honey, candies and cheese. 

On a different note, I was reading someone’s blog the other day about a couple living in the South of France, where the husband works.  They’ve been transferred to Geneva and now will live in a cottage overlooking vineyards.  In the meantime, they are house sitting for a friend in a home overlooking the Mediterranean.  And all I can think of is, “I shall not covet…I shall not covet.”  The thoughts simply aren’t strong enough to overcome the distinct pang I feel when imagining that house, that peace, that pleasure of overlooking the Cote d’Azur each and every day!

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Humorous Visual Warnings in France

No question about this warning!

The French have an almost sly sense of humor, as if a wink is just around the corner.  We find that to be so with road signs that warn of various animals you might encounter or dangerous circumstances around the bend. 

We enjoy exploring, taking a right here or a left there, to see what’s next.  And if you get lost, so what?  You’re lost in France, in the countryside, in a vineyard – could be worse!  I remember getting lost with a dear friend somewhere in Provence.  We ended up on a road that narrowed to a lane in the middle of a vineyard.  “Where are we?” we more or less said to one another.  And I said, “When we get where we’re going, we’ll know where we’ve been.”  And that is the free spirit of discovery we enjoy in France.

As my husband and I were driving around the countryside near the Cher River by Chenonceau, we saw this sign.  We had to stop and take a picture and imagine the “wink” of the sign creator.  There are universal symbols these days with big red cross marks for things not to do, but this creative “uh oh” sign made our day… and, no, we did not end up in the river!.
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Savory Little Moments in France

 

Time to relax and reflect. Photo courtesy of Philippe Bidault des Chaumes, Paris

All of us need these little relaxing interludes, when we can push aside the challenges of the day.  Perhaps, you light an aromatic candle and listen to music.  Or you walk along a tree-shaded street.  The French spirit rises like cream to the top with a café au lait at a sunlit table overlooking the square or sharing a little pichet of wine, as the sun begins to erase the pressures of the day.  We have enjoyed dipping our feet in the Mediterranean, walking along the Seine in Paris, visiting hilltop villages in Provence, sharing lovely meals at home with friends.  For all of the marvelous stimulation and adventure France offers, it is indeed these little quiet moments that allow us time to relax, reflect and appreciate the real treasures in our lives.

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Colorful Roussillon

Colorful shops in Roussillon

While Gordes is a very popular destination in the Luberon area, Roussillon, just to the East, is an equally charming hilltop village.  One of the most extraordinary sights is the multi-colored rock formations, where ochre was once mined.  The surreal landscape reveals striations in the rock of white, ochre and red soil.  The village itself is warm and welcoming.  Eighteenth century homes reflect all of the colors of the nearby land, a wonderful mix of yellow, rust and orange colors. Bright blue and green shutters frame the windows, and small squares feature colourful shops with pottery, fabrics, straw bags and a host of other delightful artisan products.  We pass a little yellow cottage with green door and shutters, and clumps of green grapes hanging from the arbor above the entrance.  The whole village atmosphere is a pleasant combination of serene and lively, so we sat at a cafe on the main square to enjoy a pichet of wine and a bit of people watching.

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Avignon Summer Music Festival

“Living” invitations to Avignon theatres

The region of Provence lays claim to some of the loveliest cities of France, and Avignon stands as a beacon among those cities.  Even though friends warned us not to visit during the summer music festival, we threw caution to the wind and joined the riotous fun of characters roaming the streets promoting theatre performances, faux wedding parties, mimes and music – a virtual circus of activity with the whimsical joy of a summer celebration in France.  It’s a fantastic time and place to choose your café seat and watch the larger-than-life scenes roll by.

As the crowds thinned, the remarkable beauty of the city emerged once again.  Stone ramparts encircle the city of magnificent architecture and art, broad avenues and tiny streets; until you arrive at the imposingly beautiful medieval fortress and home-away-from-home Palace of the Popes.  From the fortress you will see the famous ruins of the Pont d’Avignon over the Rhône River.  Whether you choose off-season quiet or mid-summer festivities, Avignon is a must-see stop in your discovery of France.

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Ancient Roman Pont du Gard, Nimes

The ancient Roman Pont du Gard bridge

“You must see the Pont du Gard, as you leave Nîmes,” the friendly boutique owner told us; so off we went on a hot July day to find the ancient Roman aqueduct bridge.  After parking, we thread our way down natural pathways to the shore of the Gard River.  The magnificent bridge gracefully spans the river; while lively young folks jump to the water from a nearby cliff, and canoers maneuver their way among the swimmers.  Had we but known, we would have worn our swim suits!  Alas, we did not, so we find a cool, shady spot from which we can admire a bridge that has reigned for over 2000 years.

The Roman architects and engineers once again applied their brilliance in designing the bridge with three rows of arches that rise 165 feet (the highest of all aqueducts) over the water.  The 15 years of construction took place from about 45 to 60 A.D. under the Claude and Nero empires.  The aqueduct itself was designed to channel the spring waters of the Eure to the water tower of the thriving city of Nîmes. The  UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited in France and spreads across 400 acres of natural Mediterranean countryside. 

We traveled on from the Pont with two memorable impressions – the exceptional ability of the Romans and the very small point in time we are on this earth.

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Nimes’ First Century Masterpiece

Lovely arched walkways of Nimes Amphitheater

While Americans celebrate over 200 years as a nation, things are a bit different in France.  On our visit to Nimes, the centerpiece attraction is the most well preserved Roman amphitheater in France, built under Emperor Augustus around 70 AD.  It is a magnificent and mysterious oval arena, bringing forth images of ancient games and toga-clad Romans.  Two levels of sixty arches each cast geometric shadows along the colonnades, and low-ceilinged passageways and steps hint of a people shorter in stature than today’s population.   The amphitheater today presents twice-yearly bullfights, concerts and other public events. 


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Songstress in the Square, Rousillon

Singer in a little straw hat and white boots

Rousillon typifies colorful Provencal villages, with striking blue skies, brilliant red cliffs and ochre quarries (one of the world’s largest ochre deposits).  We wander along lanes with houses of every imaginable color of red and brightly painted shutters and doors.  Quaint shops display magnificent pottery and textile collections in the midst of unique galleries and al fresco cafes. 

We decide to stay a while to soak up the lazy summer day atmosphere and stop just off the main square for a picnic lunch.  In the shade of the village chapel, we enjoy our typical bread-cheese-fruit lunch and are treated to a luncheon serenade from the songstress in the square in front of the Marie’s home.  No wonder Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence was such a literary hit.  The very spirit of Provence inspires colorful creativity.

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‘Les Calades Provençales’

Hand-painted silk artisan scarves

We arrived in Aix-en-Provence during the artisan craft fair, “Les Calades Provencales.”  Aix is famous for its many fountains and  talented favorite son Cezanne, so it’s not surprising that artisans are celebrated here.   

Elegant hand-painted scarves waved from canvas awnings, while artisans displayed their creations and crafts along the tree-lined Cours Mirabeau. Hand-crafted shoes and sandals, exotic jewelry, perfumes and pottery spread all along the boulevard.  After a pleasant stroll to examine the many gorgeous crafts, we stopped at one of Aix’s many canopied cafes.  Ummm – delicious ham and cheese gallette, a pichet of wine and a strolling guitarist made for a relaxing Aixoise experience.

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