Les Gets

Every winter I try to discover another mountain destination where I can breathe in fresh alpine air, dine on savory meals (including lots of cheese) and practice skiing. While last year found me in Courchevel, this year I became completely charmed by Les Gets, a Savoyard village in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France. What makes this village between Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc so special is the intimacy you feel upon arrival. Les Gets is not merely an artificial ski station but a mountain destination filled with soul, all year round.

I immediately felt at home at the charming four-star hotel La Marmotte. Family run since 1947, the hotel is situated at the foot of the slopes and has in recent years expanded to include 63 rooms, four restaurants (including one in the mountains) and the luxurious Séréni-Cimes Spa. La Tapiaz hotel was added in 2011 offering an additional eight chalet-style rooms. I was impressed with the design and comfort of each of the unique rooms, ideal for a romantic getaway with plenty of suite options for families. And the restaurants… Aside from trekking up to the mountains for purposes of sport, no need to leave the hotel. Not to mention the spa where I could easily spend every evening between the hammam and jacuzzi. Heaven!

From La Marmotte I headed up for a tour of the landscape, this time via racket walk. Harder than it sounds!

With plenty of snowfall, the views were breathtaking! I could imagine the stunning scenes come springtime.

Appearing like an oasis was La Marmotte’s restaurant La Paika, high up on the slopes and well worth the climb to feast on traditional dishes and fish grilled on their wood-fire barbecue.

I forced myself to leave the hotel to explore the village, and stopped to buy a few local Haute-Savoie specialties, including cheese. Apparently my fondue feast at restaurant La Pivotte only whet my appetite.

What this gem of a village also has to offer is the impressive Mechanical Music Museum. Opened in 1988, this museum houses over 550 musical instruments from around the world, including chimes, street organs and mechanical pianos. Prepare to be both amazed and entertained! Yet another reason to plan a trip to the mountain haven of Les Gets.

Embracing Winter

After the excitement of the holidays fades and we settle into a new year, those of us living in temperate climates are faced with long months full of short days and a chill in the air that makes hibernation seem like the best option. Having experienced twelve brutal winters in New York City, and now on to my ninth winter in Paris, I know the “winter woes” all too well. This year, rather than give in to the endless gray days, I am planning to embrace them. How exactly might you ask? Well, I have a strategy. Here’s my plan. Feel free to join me!

1. Make intentions. Rather than make resolutions that tend to overwhelm rather than inspire, I’m making intentions. I took this brilliant idea from my dear and clever friend Laura Calder. This year, instead of resolving to speak French like a native, learn proper Italian (hand gestures and all), write for leading media and maybe even write a book (who me, too ambitious?), I intend to make time to speak more French, study Italian especially when in Italy, and continue writing any chance I get. As for a book, I’ve got an idea brewing and I’ll do my best! After all, isn’t life meant to be all about the journey?

2. Celebrate the small wins. I recently read an article about how we don’t see what it took Olympian Michael Phelps to win the gold medal, all the small wins in the form of daily practice and dietary restrictions, we only see the end result, in his case, 28 Olympic medals. Whether it’s becoming fit, learning a language, practicing yoga or meditation, isn’t it just as important or even more so, to celebrate the small wins that lead up to the big win? I will keep reminding myself this, every time I feel defeated.

3. Meditate. This leads me to one of my greatest intentions, meditation. I’ve read countless articles and spoken to many women and men whom I admire, and they all say the same thing “meditation changed my life”. I’m an advocate for mindfulness, and have been practicing yoga for over 15 years, yet have a hard time sticking to meditation. This year I resolve to spend 10-20 minutes every morning watching my thoughts drift by and not becoming attached to them. Eventually it will become an empowering practice I love, right? Since most of us are smart phone addicts, here are 10 of the best meditation apps.

4. Go inwards. While spring is all about spending time outdoors, reveling in the beauty of friendships and flowers in bloom, the rejuvenation of earth, mind and body, winter is the time to go within. This may sound quite scary as it entails being alone with the self, away from social distractions and social media. Taking time to look inside and ask yourself a few important questions. (What those are, are up to you.) It’s a time to self-assess, to go inwards in order to later enjoy the coming out, come spring. If you don’t see me on Instagram as often, you’ll know why.

5. Enjoy each moment. Unlike spring, summer and fall with the many goings-on and social engagements common to a life well lived, winter calls for quietude. It allows for time to try new projects, discover a new author and take more care of ourselves. Daylight becomes a commodity and nights often feel endless. Rather than wishing for days to pass as I did in winters’ past, I am embracing every chilly, gray or rainy day, and using as many moments as possible to put my intentions in motion, celebrate the small wins, meditate and go inwards. Oh, and I’ll also take time to enjoy this beautiful city I call home.

Château Hopping into 2018

This past year has been an adventurous one and I feel overwhelming gratitude. Beginning with a new year in Sicily, my Italian and I have explored Miami’s Faena District, discovered Lisbon and Sintra in Portugal, encountered Valencia, Spain, and spent memorable birthday celebrations in Sardinia, Italy, in addition to visits home to the Hamptons and Cinque Terre. For blogging and writing projects I skied in breathtaking Courchevel, explored Lombardia, Italy, and visited Mont-Saint Michel by night, among other trips. And let’s not forget beautiful Budapest! One last trip before a family Christmas beneath the Florida sun was to a château in Brittany. All the while Kasia Dietz handbags journey with me as the brand continues to grow.

A four hour drive from Paris, or much faster via train, we arrived to the city of Rennes. From here we discovered remote and romantic Château du Bois Glaume. This family-run castle was the perfect weekend escape.

Our regal room overlooked the chapel of this charming castle. Immediately we felt at home, and like royalty.

While my Italian went for a run in the late fall foliage, I explored the grounds, camera in hand. That night, dinner for two was served in the elegant dining room, accompanied only by the castle’s cat.

During our stay we learned the history of this château, and how it’s part of a collection of family-run French castles converted into bed-and-breakfasts, each offering no more than five rooms. I immediately became fascinated with Bienvenue au Château and couldn’t wait to discover others. Perhaps château hopping will become a theme for the new year?

Our last visit after stopping for crêpes in the picturesque village of Rochefort-en-Terre, was to Josselin with its stunning medieval castle set upon the river. The perfect last stop before returning to Paris.

As I count my blessings for the year that has passed and prepare to fill 2018 with beautiful memories, may you live your own fairy tale, château optional. Wishing you a happy, healthy and adventure filled new year!

 

 

Paris of the East

Hungary’s capital city Budapest is often called the Paris of the East. Eager to discover it for myself, I booked a ticket and got ready to explore this beautiful city so rich in history and culture. My travel savvy step-sister joined for the adventure and we planned our short visit strategically. After a festive evening of Christmas markets and mulled wine, our morning was spent crossing from Pest to Buda. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the first permanent bridge to connect both sides of the city via the Danube river.

From the end of Chain Bridge we rode the Buda Hill Funicular, in service since 1870 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  All the way up to Buda Castle Hill we enjoyed stunning views of the city, with plenty of photo ops.

Views of Budapest are even better seen from 100 year old Fishermen’s Bastion. With a fish market nearby, this bastion was built to commemorate the fishermen who protected this part of the city. Each of the seven tent-like turrets symbolizes one of the seven Hungarian tribes that arrived to the Carpathian Basin in 896.

Nearby Neo-Gothic Matthias Church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Budapest, as well as the most unique in Europe. Built in 1015 and inspired by orientalism, it’s colorful  interior is breathtaking!

Back on the Pest side of the city, we stopped by the memorial ‘Shoes on the Danube River’ to pay our respects to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is without a doubt one of the most regal buildings in Budapest, also the third largest Parliament building in the world. We took a tour of the interior as well, worth the visit.

That night we booked a tour of Budapest by night and enjoyed a history lesson as the city lit up before our eyes.

Day two was dedicated to bath houses and spas, beginning with Budapest’s most famous Széchenyi thermal bath. The largest medicinal bath in Europe, its water is supplied by two thermal springs, with temperatures of 74 °C and 77 °C.  What an experience, bathing with tourists and locals alike.

Our next stop was to Gellért, an art noveau thermal bath opened in 1918. Another must do in “the city of spas”. Here we soaked in indoor hot springs and I braved a few dips in the cold pool and indulged in the steam room.

Our last visit was to the Harmony Spa at Aria Hotel located in the city center. Where music is the theme throughout the hotel, we relaxed at the hands of skilled masseuses, the perfect ending to a day of wellness.

I couldn’t very well leave Budapest without a visit to the elegant New York Café. Often considered the “most beautiful coffee house in the world”, this is where writers and editors would meet to drink and dine. In 2006 it was restored to its original splendor, offering some of Budapest’s best cakes. Another top address for homemade cakes and chocolate is Gerbeaud, opened in 1858. The perfect spot to pick up a few sweet souvenirs. As for dining, our favorite gourmet restaurant was 10 year old family run Mák Bistro. Michelin star level!

Thank you Budapest, for the many memories of this Paris of the East! Aside from some of the taxi drivers who try to take you for a ride (not just in the literal sense), best to order a taxi online, it was a trip to remember!

World War I Centennial

This year marks 100 years since American soldiers entered World War I, aiding their French allies in winning the war. To commemorate the Centennial of the Great War, I recently joined Atout France for a trip to the Lorraine and Meuse regions of France, the setting for many hard fought battles. Our journey began at the train station in the city of Metz. The Neo-Roman architecture is one example of the power during the German empire.

From here we discovered the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a modern contrast to this medieval Gallo-Roman city which includes Saint Etienne Cathedral with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and the Porte des Allemands (German Door). The latter was named for the Teutonic Knights who founded a hospital nearby in the 13th century.

From Metz we drove 80 kilometers to Verdun in the Meuse Argonne region, where I enjoyed a room with a view of the city at hotel Les Jardins du Mess, not to mention a decadent dinner. In the morning it was time to explore.

The first stop in discovering exactly how grueling life was for the soldiers during the Great War was at Butte de Vauquois. It is here that mine warfare created massive craters in the land, beneath which German soldiers built a network of galleries. Soldiers often spent entire weeks within these dark, damp tunnels. Hard to fathom.

Our next stop was to Romagne ’14-’18, a museum created through 30 years of collecting wartime objects within the woods around Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. This is the life work of Jean-Paul de Vries, a man with many a tale to tell. Collections of grenades, rifles and helmets to items including combs, forks, watches, shoes and love letters, tell the story of the soldiers’ everyday life.

American soldiers officially entered the war on April 6th 1917, mobilizing over 4 million able-bodied men. This followed their two years of aiding injured French soldiers as ambulance drivers. Victory with the aid of American soldiers in 1918, ended the mine warfare in Verdun. The American Monument at Montfaucon d’Argonne is one of many testaments to America’s loyalty to France. This 60-meter high monument commemorating American victory in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, faces the front line of the American First Army on the morning of September 26, 1918, the start of the offensive.

To commemorate the 14,246 American soldiers who lost their lives during World War I, we spent a solemn evening at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. It was November 11th 2017, and the largest American graveyard in Europe held a ceremony with 3,000 candles in remembrance of these soldiers. I will never forget this deeply touching experience. Next year for the Centennial on September 23, 2018, one candle will be lit for every soldier who fought alongside the French. This event will honor the promise made by General Pershing: “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds”.

That night we found refuge at Hostellerie du Château des Monthairons, a family-run castle that once served as as a hospital for US troops in 1915. The perfect place to reflect.

The following day began at the Battlefield of Verdun, the setting for the most intense warfare that took place during WWI. This French and German battlefield remained in French hands, but not without horrific losses of life from both sides. The Battle of Verdun in 1916 lasted 300 days and 300 nights with non-stop fighting. Tragically, more than 300,000 soldiers died or were considered missing, with over 400,000 French and German soldiers wounded. A visit to Verdun might be the only way to truly comprehend this unprecedented loss of life from both sides.

The Ossuary is one of the national French memorials to the First World War, and a remarkable tribute to brave men. Here the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers are laid to rest. Whether from the German or French side, these soldiers are united as men who lost the battle for their lives.

Nearby Fort Vaux is a symbol of French heroism. It was here that Major Sylvain-Eugene Raynal, after running out of water, medical supplies and food for his men, sent several messages via homing pigeons. It was his last pigeon that brought relief for his soldiers. This pigeon named Le Vaillant, released from Fort Vaux on June 4, 1916, was awarded the Order of the Nation. A feat worth the honor!

The Verdun Memorial provides a comprehensive history lesson on the Battle of Verdun. You are greeted by the image of a Verdun soldier, unaware whether he is French or German. This recently renovated museum is filled with original photographs, bone-chilling eyewitness accounts, and 2,000 wartime items. Personal items include crafts made by the soldiers during many idle hours, and letters sent home to worried families.

This journey through the Lorraine and Meuse regions presents both a history lesson and brings us closer to the heroism and tragedies of all these young soldiers, regardless of the borders that defined them. A journey worth taking for all of us, especially for the Centennial of World War I.

Paris Picks : Books

What better gift to give during the holidays (or any occasion for that matter), than a book. Especially one connected to Paris for the Francophile in your life, which you too will be certain to enjoy. To help you choose, I’m sharing my favorite recently published books written by authors I’m grateful to call friends. I promise you’ll love them all! Just click on the book to read more about it and purchase a copy, or two.
I met Lindsey Tramuta soon after moving to Paris and we’ve become fast friends ever since. Her book The New Paris casts a light the evolution of the city during this last decade, highlighting the movers and shakers behind the changing face of Paris. A perfect read for those interested in Parisian gastronomy, or anything food and drink related for that matter. With stellar photography by Charissa Fay, you’ll drool just reading it. Welcome to ‘The New Paris’!Laura Calder and I met years ago in Paris through a mutual friend and have been inspiring each other since that first encounter. She with her French recipes and dining advice and me with my love of design. We even collaborated on a project in which I helped her design signature linen napkins. In her latest book The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness, Laura shares her tips on how to transform the ordinary into something magical, both in and out of the kitchen. This includes décor, ambience, shopping, and planning dinner parties, of which she is a pro!

A soulful Australian woman with a deep love for Paris, Katrina Lawrence and I met during one of her visits, soon after she purchased a 75006 bag from my Paris Collection, representing her favorite neighborhood. Just days ago she released her first book Paris Dreaming, taking us on a journey around Paris, through all the stages of her life. Katrina muses on everything Parisian, from politics to perfume to stylish Parisiennes, and shares the life lessons Paris has taught her along the way. Prepare to become enchanted!

When Vanessa Grall moved from London to Paris, she began documenting her bohemian adventures in her blog, Messy Nessy Chic. We met during one of her discoveries and I remained a dedicated fan, along with thousands of others. Her new book Don’t be a Tourist in Paris: The Messy Nessy Chic Guide is a ‘chic cabinet of curiosities’, and will certainly reveal the true heart of Paris to you. What’s more, you can find my bag painting workshops on page 148. Thank you, Vanessa!

David Lebovitz is certainly a man about town. Especially in Paris’s right bank where we both live, and where I often run into him. In his latest book L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David shares perplexing and often humorous tales of updating his Parisian apartment, in a way that only he can tell. Enjoy his continued expat adventures, along with dozens of new recipes.

 

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