Archive for August, 2011

Signs to Guide, Amuse, Entice

August 31, 2011 @ 9:02 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan


Charming glass & iron sign in Sancerre, dated 1698

Today, a touch of whimsy and a collection of photos that reflect the individuality, creativity and sly humor of signs in France.   In a country that refers to speed bumps as “dormant gendarme” (sleeping policeman), it’s not surprising to come across some amusing signs – as when we were headed down a dirt lane in the Loire Valley.   We knew we were close to the River Cher, when we spotted a sign, showing a car going into the water.  Point taken – beware! 

For those who missed this...

We felt the same about this wonderful traffic sign near the hunting forests surrounding Chambord – perhaps a rabbit should have taken up the rear of the procession!

Beware the procession!




There are iconic Chat Noirs throughout France, and welcoming restaurant signs that create instant hunger or at least a desire to see the place that hangs such a charming “shingle”.  In the last photo, Vouvray is rightfully proud of her plump grapes.


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Guerande – A Medieval Masterpiece

August 30, 2011 @ 10:14 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Fortification of a "fairytale" village

Though we enjoy the freedom of taking the most interesting road or choosing a general direction, there is one “do over” we will rectify in the future.  We travelled from the Loire Valley to the Atlantic Coast in the 3rd week of August; when, as it turns out, every other potential vacationer in all of France had done precisely the same thing. 

After wandering around the port of Saint-Nazaire, we wondered at its relatively modern look.  Sad to discover that the entire city was fire bombed by the Allies in January of 1943, in order to cripple the German submarine base that was wreaking havoc on Allied supply ships in the Atlantic.  The entire city was incinerated and was rebuilt in the late 1940’s. 

We headed north to discover the lovely medieval city of Guérande.  The city center is entirely encircled by heavily fortified walls with 6 towers and 4 gates, as if to assure the preservation of this place in time.  After the siege in 1343 by Charles de Bois troops, Jean de Montfort ordered further fortifications. 

A "cocoon" of shopping and dining

The small streets are alive with tourists, shopping, dining and enjoying the authentically historic feeling of the town.  All of that medieval gray is gaily punctuated with bright blue shutters and storefronts, geranium-filled flower boxes and gardens lined with tulips.  And of course there are baskets and boxes of the famous Fleur de Sel, sought by chefs and everyday cooks to enhance their creations.

It is here that we will correct our mistake, visit again and allow time to discover the city, the collegiate church of Saint-Aubin, the surrounding salt flats, the megaliths and Gallo-Roman remains in the area and the gorgeous Bay of La Baule.  Perhaps in May, when life is a bit calmer.


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Free Things to Do in Paris

August 29, 2011 @ 11:33 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Enjoy a pique-nique by the Eiffel Tower

Begin with comfortable shoes, a good map and a few snacks in your backpack.  Paris offers a feast of sights and sounds from sophisticated exhibits to down-to-earth people watching in magnificent parks.

The quays along the Seine are always pleasant.  In the 5th arrondisement, stroll through the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air.  Created in 1980, it is literally an outdoor garden planted with twentieth century sculptures instead of flowers.   Along the way, you’ll see large boats anchored to the quay, homes for those who choose the river life, with bicycles aboard, outdoor seating and plants.  Their address is enviable. 

All along the quay, Parisians and visitors take a rest in the sun or read beneath the riverfront shade trees.  You’ll see tour boats pointing out the Notre Dame Cathedral and L’ile Saint-Louis.  Each Sunday, adjacent roads are closed to auto traffic, yielding their fast roadways to leisurely cyclists and roller bladers. 

Take in the sun along the Seine

Summer in Paris serves up a number of free, inventive celebrations.  Several beaches along the banks of the Seine welcome sun worshippers.   At the same time, a giant outdoor screen at the Parc de la Villette delights cinema fans with free movies from all eras.

The Fete de la Musique is held each June with concerts presented throughout the City of Light.  At every square, on corners and in courtyards, you will enjoy all kinds of musique, from a chamber quartet at the Place Dauphine to African rhythms in front of the Notre Dame.  All free and all delightful.

July signals the celebration of Bastille Day, much like the American 4th of July.  The French pull out all stops on July 14th with grand military marches and flyovers to celebrate the birth of the Republic. Every July 14th, Paris comes to life with free events in honor of democracy à la Française.

Finally, the annual Quartier d’Eté is resplendent with presentations of music, theatre and dance by international performers.  Once again, the sites are spread throughout the city in the gardens and even at the ancient arena, Arènes de Lutéce.   

Lovely sculptures adorn the City of Light

Other outdoor places to loll and people watch include the magnificent Tuilleries gardens, the Place des Vosges and the gardens of Luxembourg.  In fact, visitors too often feel honor bound to see every museum or monument and miss the concept that the entire city is a living museum.  From sculptures on bridges and buildings to historic and stunning architecture, the city offers a free visual feast at every bend in the road. 

These tips should get you off to an enthusiastic start, so now it’s your turn.  Hit the internet and book store for a never-ending supply of ideas.  You’ll be glad to arrive in Paris armed with knowledge and ready to roam.

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A Pleasant Day Trip to Auxerre

August 27, 2011 @ 12:09 pm
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Auxerre's renowned half-timbered houses


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

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

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

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

Cathedrale Saint-Étienne

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

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

(Click to enlarge)

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

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