I took a hot air balloon ride in Sedona, Arizona several years ago. It was a mind-blowing experience because of the beauty of the region, the unique vantage point from the air and the feeling of taking part in a fresh, new adventure. I’ve been wanting to do the same again but in the Loire Valley above all the most impressive châteaux de la Loire. I found a company that offers this!
There are so many gorgeous places in France, it’s hard for us to see all of them – especially if we keep returning to one place. We can’t help it. We find ourselves going back often to Annecy and its surrounding areas. We sat by the lake and I turned on my camera to capture the moment.
We’ve passed by a little village called Nolay dozens of times without stopping on our way from our house to Beaune. The place seemed unremarkable on the surface but we finally decided to visit it one day to check out the antiques stores on the main road.
As usual and luckily, we wandered around while we were there.
It turns out that Nolay is awesome.
Most people who’ve been here would cite the beautiful, arcaded central market place, which dates back to the 14th century.
The roof is made of limestone (weighing 800 kg/1800 lbs per square meter) and the frame holds everything together with chestnut wood beams.
But to me, the salon de thé right next to the central market place, La Thé dans la Vigne, is Nolay’s real gem.
With delicious home made desserts, light fare meals, fine wines,
an adorable, sweet and hospitable owner (Sylvie Blanchard),
eclectic quirky French decor,
antique books and newspapers in French and English. antique dishware and silverware and housed in a a building that dates back to 1810, you will only feel comfortable and happy in such a warm, cozy place.
Everything we ordered was tasty and since we couldn’t decide which dessert to have, our kind hostess prepared a plate with everything on it, including a bowl of her whisky infused fruit – the latter being delicious but crazy potent!
Le Thé dans la Vigne
8, place des Halles 21340 Nolay France
Télephone :+33 (0)3 80 26 87 31
Open 10:30am to 9:30pm during warm months Tuesday to Sunday. Closed November 30 to April 1. Reservations recommended.
Be sure to visit Saint Remy de Provence on Wednesdays. That’s when they have a huge outdoor market until about 1pm. The streets are lined with vendors selling food, arts and crafts, linens, jewelry, leather goods, candy, junk, etc., and there are lots of street musicians. I loved this excellent duo, although I couldn’t understand what the guy was singing.
It’s places like Château de Castelnaud (and the village Castelnaud-la-Chapelle) that make the Perigord one of my favorite regions to travel to in France. Alhough privately owned, it’s open to the public, and I highly recommend visiting the château and nearby countryside especially for the spectacular views from the castle/fortress of the surrounding area and the Dordogne River. From atop the fortress, you can see the châteaux of Beynac and Marqueyssac and the medieval village of La Roque-Gageac. NOTE: Like most smaller French villages I feature on this blog, you’ll need a car to get here and explore the vast Black Perigord.
Château de Castelnaud is a treasure trove filled with fascinating history and trivia as well as beautiful medieval architecture.
Château de Castelnaud (website)
Musée de la guerre au Moyen Âge
24250 Castelnaud-la-Chapelle France
Telephone: +33 (0)5 53 31 30 00
GPS :44°48’57.59’’ N
Here’s a slideshow of photos I took of Château de Castelnaud:
While we’re on the subject of feves, I thought I’d share a recent one I found in a tasty galette du roi from one of our favorite pastry chefs in our area, Jean-Marc Bernigaud, who was previously the pastry chef at Trois Gros, a three star Michelin restaurant in Roanne. Typically, the galettes are filled with frangipane but Jean-Marc told us he was bored and added a different flavor: a delicious apple and noisette filling, unusual but expectedly unique and refreshing, in any case. It had a non-traditional design on top, too.
While my feve isn’t as sexy as the Kamasutra feves, I thought it was cute, a teeny tiny Renault 4L, a super popular car in France from 1961 and beyond. It was Renault’s response to their competitor, the Citroen 2CV (what the French call the deux chevaux (two horses)), which is cuter and iconic of old France. (Read more about the 4L here.)
Back to the feve.
A couple of days after feasting on the galette, I saw the Renault 4L again but this time it was a real Renault 4L and the exact same color as the mini Renault 4L feve!
I shot this video on a pedestian shopping street in Arles, France one day and just stood in one place with my camera while people watching. Sorry I ddin’t have a tripod so it’s a little wobbly! I really love how the video turned out with the live music (accordion, violin) in the background, the two guys shaking hands but not stopping to chat with each other (does that happen in the U.S.? I dunno.), every day flower buying in the foreground, but what I love especially here is that everyone ignored me completely. I love being ignored! Really. This is what I love about France haha. It sort of reminds me of New York (being ignored) except there’s prettier architecture.
We recently stayed for a few days at au Chateau de Mont Dol, a charming bed and breakfast in a small village not far from Mont Saint Michel and Cancale in Brittany. Though not really a chateau (it’s a renovated farmhouse), the place is enormous with five rooms (two doubles, one triple, one suite, one family suite for 4) and attached to the main house are three gites (self catering apartments).
Au Chateau de Mont Dol is a comfortable, convenient and affordable base to use while you’re exploring Bretagne and it’ll be even more worth it to you when you return to your home sweet home after a tiring day’s worth of sightseeing.
We stayed in the family suite, which sleeps a total of four. Two downstairs and 2 up in a loft. This is perfect for a couple and two kids. Very comfy and inside the rooms you’ll discover mini meringues for guests to much on!
Another reason for choosing this charming B&B is that one of the owners, Yannick Goulvestre, is a chef, having worked at Alain Senderens (Lucas Carton previously), a three star Michelin restaurant. That means the meals are excellent.
Clams definitely win against snails.
and we were particularly impressed with his orange dessert souffle!
Served with chocolate gelato and buttery biscuit, it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in France. I wished we had started the meal with dessert. If we’d only had that for the entire meal, I would’ve been very happy!
Another gorgeous dessert served on a different night:
Herb tea and chocolates after dinner:
In the morning, wake up to steaming French coffee and a yummy breakfast of home baked goods, crepes, fruit, cereals, yogurts.
You know, a typical European offering. Make sure to try the amazing salty Breton butter!
Au Chateau de Mont Dol
1, rue de la Mairie
35120 Mont Dol, France
Telephone: +33 (0)2 99 80 74 24
We were in Paris a little while ago and headed over to Breizh Cafe, a creperie that focuses on quality and organic ingredients, crepes, galettes, other goodies from Brittany and some twists on these traditional dishes. They turned us away because we didn’t have reservations. Pffff! So, we went to the first Breizh Cafe in France, located in Cancale (Brittany), which is, I think, is better. So there!
Like its Parisian sister, Bertrand Larcher’s Breizh Café offers tradional and original dishes. but unlike in Paris, the Breizh Café in Cancale is right on the beach.
And because the seafood is caught just a few yards away and is delivered the same day, it couldn’t be fresher.
Definitely order oysters! They were the best I’ve ever had.
Have local cidre with your galettes and crepes. A must.
If you’re looking for the freshest, tastiest sashimi ever, go upstairs to La Table de Breizh Café, which just opened last February. It specializes in Japanese-Breton cuisine created by Chef Rafael-Fumio Kudaka.
For dessert, crepes of course! I can never resist a crepe with salted caramel.
This one wasn’t too bad, either.
Lastly, you can purchase organic buckwheat fllour and buttermilk, among other products at Breizh Cafe.
Breizh Café/La Table de Breizh Café – Cancale
7 quai Thomas
35260 Cancale, France
Telephone: +33 (0) 2 99 89 56 46 / +33 (0) 2 99 89 61 76
Breizh Café – Paris
109, rue Vieille du Temple (Le Marais)
75003 Paris, France
Telephone: +33 (0)1 42 72 13 77
Breizh Cafe Creperie – Tokyo
Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
Telephone: +81 3-3289-3531
There are also locations in Yokohama, Kawasaki, Akasaka and HIbiya.
After you finish your walking tour of the Palais des papes (Popes Palace) in Avignon, and take the exit just outside the gift shop, you will be facing La Mirande, a luxury hotel with a Michelin star restaurant, cooking school and salon de thé. If you time it right, which is what we always try to do, arrive during tea time for absolutely delicious pastries and tea, coffee or unrivaled hot chocolate.
La Mirande is an elegant, beautiful, 700+ year old converted mansion, previously inhabited by generations of aristocracy. Now, it’s a little more casual. Afternoon tea is served in an bright, comfortable and protected atrium, a perfect place to rest your feet from hours of walking around Avignon.
The afternoon tea at La Mirande is offered for a flat fee of 11 euros, a steal. Just go help yourself to whatever you want. Drinks are ordered and served at the table. When we were there last, we actually didn’t eat much (not like us, normally!) so the waiter charged us less. Sweet!
Mikael Aupert is the dedicated pastry chef at La Mirande.
4, place de la Mirande
84000 Avignon France
Telephone: +33 4 90 14 20 20
Just a quick note about the Airbus 380. We flew it to New York during the summer and I have to say, it’s awesome. The photo doesn’t really convey how absolutely ENORMOUS this plane is (It’s the biggest plane in the world). The double-decker plane from Paris to New York accommodated 538 people but other airbuses like this to other destinations can hold up to 900 people! The ride is more spacious and extremely quiet, too, which helps to feel less tired upon arrival. I was surprised to feel good when we arrived. Normally, I feel pretty crappy. Other notables: you have your own screen and hard drive so you can watch films and other media at any given moment in time, and even put a movie on pause if you need to get up, then resume when you get back. No more waiting for the round of movies to end! The downside of this experience is when you have to retrieve your luggage, although they did a great job at JFK pulling the bags onto the baggage claim carousels. It can take a while, but it’s totally worth it. NOTE: Sadly, it doesn’t fly to the west coast. WHY??!
Going back to Rue Mouffetard after a long while, reminded me of one of the very first times I was there. I was visiting a film student friend who lived on the street. We were hanging out the 3rd story window of his apartment watching people, and he suddenly jumps and screams, “THAT’S Wim Wenders!” I’m like, “Are you sure? You can only see the top of his head. How can you tell?” He says, “I just know the top of Wim Wender’s head! It’s him sitting outside at that cafe, I swear.” He started running down the stairs. “Let’s go meet him!” I ran down with him. And, it turned out to actually be him; it was the man who made one of my all time favorite movies right before my very eyes. We chatted for a minute or two about nothing in particular. My buddy got his autograph. I wished I had my camera with me but that was when I rarely took any photos. I totally regret that. Anyway, I didn’t see Wim Wenders this time but here are some photos I took on Rue Mouffetard a couple of weeks ago.
Several funky, modern, manga-inspired sculptures by notable Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (also responsible for these Louis Vuitton designs) are now rubbing elbows with the relics of Versailles. The show stopper, supposedly, is “Miss ko2,” a racy piece gracing the entrance to the Hall of Mirrors. The exhibition runs until December 12, 2010.
Exhibition by Takashi Murakami in the Chateau de Versailles
14 September to 12 December 2010 Château de Versailles
Grand Apartment and Hall of mirrors, included in the tour of the Grand Apartment
Place d’Armes – 78000 Versailles
Chef Bernard Loiseau, known for his world class fine cuisine, is no longer with us but his Three Michelin starred restaurant, La Côte d’Or and hotel, Le Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu continue his legacy largely due to his family’s dedication and current chef Patrick Bertron. His attention to detail, focus on exceptional dining and overall perfectionism is felt everywhere here, and if anything, Bernard Loiseau should be remembered for what he was able to achieve during his lifetime and the hallmark he leaves behind. Nothing else.
We loved staying at Le Relais and eating La Côte d’Or. If you come to France and don’t make it to one of Bernard Loiseau’s establishments, you’ll be missing out on what would be one of the most memorable trips and meals you’ve ever had.
Some photos from our trip!
Le Relais Bernard Loiseau
21210 Saulieu – Bourgogne, (Côte d’Or, Burgundy) France
Tel. : + 33 (0)3 80 90 53 53
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
CLOSED Tuesday-Wednesday from November 2 to December 22, 2010
Other Bernard Loiseau locations:
Restaurant Loiseau des vignes
31, rue Maufoux – 21200 Beaune, Bourgogne, France
Tel. : + 33 (0)3 80 24 12 06
E-mail : email@example.com
CLOSED every Sunday and Monday
Restaurant Tante Louise
41, rue Boissy d’Anglas – 75008 Paris, France
Tel. : + 33 (0)1 42 65 06 85
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
CLOSED every Saturday and Sunday
Restaurant Tante Marguerite
5, rue de Bourgogne – 75007 Paris, France
Tel. : + 33 (0)1 45 51 79 42
E-mail : email@example.com
CLOSED every Saturday and Sunday
The brasserie, La Rotonde, is one of our regular stops when we’re in Paris. It’s been around since 1910 and is known to have been frequented by famous painters like Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Federico Cantú, Henri Matisse and Tsuguharu Fujita (most of them depicted La Rotonde in their paintings) and writers/artists from the “Lost Generation” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Matisse, T.S. Eliot, Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and others). That has all faded into history but it’s still one of our favorite places. There’s nothing fancy, really, but it basically offers your consistently yummy traditional French brasserie fare at reasonable prices: all kinds of steaks (with frites, of course), seafood and more. Get a steak here with pepper sauce, though! It’s your best bet. The atmosphere is notable with its red-velvet and brass, famous paintings and energetic crowd. The service is friendly and excellent.
Lastly, save room for dessert! It’s hard to do here because the meals servings are big. Get their Mille Feuille! It’s sooo gooooood.
105, Boulevard Montparnasse (at the corner of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail)
75006 Paris France
Telephone: +33 1 43 26 48 26
Vitré (Brittany, Ille-et-Vilaine) is the most well-preserved medieval village I’ve seen in France with its narrow streets of cobblestone,
surrounding ramparts and half-timbered houses.
The 11th century Château de Vitré showcases fairy tale towers and has historically proven to be one of the most powerful castles in history having not been occupied during the Hundred Years War. The English attempted to take it over many times, without success, even though they’d occupied the village.
The best part of our short trip, however, happened while we were meandering around the old village, taking photos, chatting, then suddenly, a local villager speeds by and grumpily yells, “You’re right to take photos. It’s beautiful here!” then he smiled ear to ear. My sweetie then says, “Oh, but we actually want to take a picture of you.” And this adorable man enthusiastically agreed.
Then we asked, “Will you stand like THIS?”* And he did! People of Vitre, you rock.
* My nephew has been posing for photos like this and we thought we’d find some competition for him. Actually, many travelers in France who we didn’t know agreed to do this.
If for one reason you come into Maison Larnicol, the brainchild of Master Chocolatier and MOF, Georges Larnicol, it’s to marvel at his playful, colorful chocolate creations.
Oh but you should taste as much as possible, too. We dropped by his shop in Saint Malo (Brittany) but he has a whole slew of shops in these cities Auray, Bordeaux, Concarneau, Guerande, La Baule, Locronan, Nantes, Pont Aven, Quimper, Rennes and Saint Brieuc.
The kouign amann (an oh-so-amazing buttery, baked Breton pastry), macarons and chocolate were heavenly. There are no additives, preservatives or artificial ingredients in the baked goods.
The mini kouign-amanns called kougnettes are so cute and come in 14 different flavors.
The only regret we have now is that we didn’t try every single item in the shop. There’s so much more to grab here: cookies, lollipops, galettes…
6, rue Saint-Vincent
35400 Saint Malo France
Telephone Number: +33 (0)2 99 40 57 62
You’ve seen the bright, double-decker, in-your-face Paris tour bus navigating the windy streets and massive roundabouts of Paris scooting around wide-eyed tourists desperate to take in every single one of the most famous Paris landmarks, all in the shortest amount of time. They’re hard to miss. While some tourists would rather set their hair on fire than get on one of these, there are others who swear by their virtues. It’s not really something I’d ever thought I’d be taking a ride on, but when we had a visitor from Japan, she could only stay in Paris for 2 days. What to do? If she didn’t HAVE to see all of the landmarks, we surely wouldn’t have done it but she did, and so we thought this was the most likely way to pull it off.
I have to admit that it’s kind of excellent for those specific situations and we had the best time riding it (ride on the upper deck!) and being able to get out at any number of stops (then get back on) There are many buses so you’ll only need to wait about 10 minutes at each stop during the summer to catch another bus, 20 minutes during the winter. The entire tour, if you stay on the bus the whole time, takes approximately two hours and 15 minutes. That’s quick, particularly if you think that during that time you could’ve been waiting in line just to get on the Eiffel Tower. I exaggerate but you get what I mean.
You have the possibility of stopping at nine different places: 1. Trocadéro, 2. Champ de Mars, 3. Louvre, 4. Notre-Dame, 5. Orsay, 6. Opéra, 7. Champs Elysées-Etoile, 8. Grand Palais and 9. Eiffel Tower. The earliest buses start between 9:30am and 10:30am with the last buses stopping between 6:25pm and 10:16pm. See the hours and stops here. Note: Weekend and week day hours differ slightly, so do check the hours carefully.
Audio guides are available in several languages and you can download the tour’s mp3 from the website here in advance if you want to hear the guide from your own mp3 player.
You can spread your trip over two days (it’s an unlimited 2 day pass), so for the price of 24 € (Adult fare) and 12 € (kids 4 to 12 fare), you might just be able to see a lot of stuff in a little amount of time. Buy your tickets online to receive an additional 10% off.
I wonder if growups will want to stay in these Barbie rooms. I don’t want to think about that.
From August 6th until September 2nd 2010, two rooms at the hotel will be entirely re-decorated exclusively with Barbie furniture, accessories and other items. The Plaza Athénée brings to life the secret dreams of little girls.
Family Package includes one Barbie room and one Deluxe room for the parents (adjoining rooms) from 1,600 € or one Barbie room and one Deluxe suite from 2,500 €. Daily continental breakfast included for both children and parents. The Barbie room is not suitable for children under the age of 36 months and for teenagers over 16.
For more information +33 1 53 67 66 67
or go visit the website.
The success of Restaurant Week in cities like New York, Dublin, Lisbonne, Madrid, London, Miami and Los Angeles has inspired cities in France to give a go to a week dedicated to affordable gastronomy. Hundreds of participating restaurants will offer a unique menu priced at 20,10€ for lunch and 35€ for dinner.
I was looking forward to checking out several restaurants in our region, including Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, but it’s not on the list!
For those of you stuck in Paris because of Eyjafjallajokull’s wrath on Mother Nature (the Icelandic ash cloud grounding airlines in Europe), as well as other travelers, why not chill and take a dinner cruise on the Seine? Your diner croisiere will take your mind off of being stranded and instead send you on a floating gourmet tour to see all the iconic landmarks the City of Light shows millions of visitors each year.
While Blue Seine specializes in group cruises on the Seine, they do offer individual packages as well. Inquire on their website and bon vent!
Telephone Number: 01 56 89 88 98
My sweetie HAPPENED to be in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris’ Best Baguette of 2010 and grabbed a couple of warm baguettes to see how spectacular they are. A few shops down, he found an award winning charcuterie for their fromage de tête, Christian Durant Charcuterie, and picked us up some artisanal foie gras (I wouldn’t have minded some of that award winning fromage de tête but oh well!) Both baguette and foie gras were pretty fantastic. A slight bémol regarding the baguette. It could’ve been perhaps more airy inside but that’s how I personally like them. They were, in any case, deliciously thin and crispy on the outside and soft in the inside – and paired with the foie gras, a perfect and typical French indulgence for any time of the day!
Le Grenier à Pain
The Best Baguette in Paris 2010
38 rue des Abbesses
75018 Paris France
Charcuterie Christian Durant
30 Rue des Abbesses
75018 Paris France
Years ago in Paris, you could walk into practically any brasserie or restaurant and not worry that you would be served terrible food. For the most part you wouldn’t be disappointed. Move forward in time and things have changed quite a bit and well, you aren’t as confident walking cold into an unknown restaurant in Paris. Despite those turn of events in recent years, we often find ourselves walking into an unknown restaurant in Paris not having the slightest idea if it’s going to be good! Oh well, we’re still optimistic about things and always hope we’ll be happy with our random choice.
When we were turned away at Breizh Café for not having reservations, we then wandered into Des gars dans la cuisine, a small restaurant in Le Marais, and were very pleased with our accidental selection. Yay. To note was the Parmentier, a dish originally known as a poor man’s meal including mashed potatoes and left over meats, typically ground beef. However, the Parmentier at Des gars dans la cuisine, (a restaurant name, which is a play on words: guys in the kitchen or damage in the kitchen), is a step up from the original dish. Their version features Canard confit au foie gras, jus au miel et poivre vert (duck confit with foie gras, juice from honey and green peppercorns) – the yummiest Parmentier I’ve ever had. I think it should be listed in this book we refer to from time to time.
Today marked the 17th “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris” which translates to the “Best Baguette in Paris” contest. By luck of the draw, I managed to be selected as one of the jury members and spent an incredible 4 hours sitting next to Ghislaine Arabian tasting close to 150 baguettes.
It may seem hard to believe, but a lot of mediocre bread can be found in France. Walk into your average corner bakery and if you don’t know what to look for, or to ask for, you risk walking away with a very average, and at times inedible, baguette.