VIP Shopping at Galeries Lafayette

Entering regal department store Galeries Lafayette at 40 Boulevard Haussmann feels much like entering a museum (more on its fascinating history, here). The difference being what’s on display are shoes, bags and a carefully curated selection of designer clothing. Much like a museum the experience can be intimidating. To avoid losing yourself in the racks of ready-to-wear, Galeries Lafayette now offers a VIP shopping experience. Curious to learn more, I decided to head over to my favorite store.

Walking through the majestic space, the first thing that caught my eye was the current art exhibition ‘Le Jour Qui Vient’. Various phrases in both English and French are strewn along the store, ready to catch consumers attention. What’s better than shopping in the midst of art? I also stopped by the Galerie des Galeries for a look at the ‘Africa Now’ expo, ending July 29th. But back to VIP shopping…

I took the escalator to the 5th floor concierge desk, presented my voucher and was led to a private lounge. Here began my VIP shopping experience. I settled in to enjoy the stellar treatment, champagne, and of course the shopping. I had a few key summer essentials in mind.

So what does recently launched Galeries Lafayette’s Parisian VIP shopping experience include exactly? Services that are perfect for a traveler or local with little time on their hands.

  • A dedicated concierge service
  • Fast-track payment and tax refund service
  • Delivery of your in-store purchases to your hotel or residence in Paris
  • Access to Personal Shopper service
  • Complimentary drinks and snacks (Champagne, anyone?)
  • International press
  • Private Wifi
  • Treats from one of their restaurants including Angelina and Vue sur Coupole
  • A Galeries Lafayette tote bag

If you’re still not sure about VIP shopping, I invite you to try it for yourself, and spend a day shopping like a vrai Parisian. You’ll be hooked! I’m offering two VIP passes (valued at 49€ each) for you and a friend. Just follow Galeries Lafayette on Instagram and leave a comment below. Winner announced June 23rd. Bonne chance!

Weekend in Valencia

This year, to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary we flew to Valencia. I hadn’t been since the student days and was curious to rediscover this city in Spain’s Costa Blanca. Especially with my adventurous Italian. We arrived on a Saturday and settled in to boutique hotel Vincci Mercat in the historic center. So how did we choose to spend 48 hours in this diverse city? By exploring and eating of course. It’s not everyday you’re in the land of paella… In addition to our favorite authentic Spanish dining spots, here’s my guide to this eclectic port city.

EAT LOCAL: For the best tapas head straight to Casa Montaña. Established in 1836, this local legend is both a tapas bar and a restaurant. We were lucky to find a table at the more casual bar, and loved every bite of of our seafood, meat and vegetable plates. If you’re looking for top paella, you’ll find it at La Riuà in the historic center or Casa Carmela on the beach. The latter is an institution and reservations are a must. Keep in mind paella is eaten at lunch and takes around 30 minutes to prepare. Well worth the wait!

EAT GOURMET: For our anniversary dinner we discovered Navarro, a real gem. This family run restaurant in the historic center dating from 1951, serves creative cuisine with all ingredients sourced from local markets. Whether it’s lobster paella or seafood salad with cucumber gelato, you will not be disappointed. One of the lovely sisters Guillermina, will make sure of that! Don’t forget to try their sangria, the best I’ve tasted.

SHOPPING: If you’re looking for specialties in the form of cheese and meat, head straight to the Mercado Central.  Over 8,000 square meters including a separate section for fish, you’ll find almost 300 vendors selling all local produce. Even if you’re not in the mood to shop or taste, walking around this market is an experience!

EAT SWEETS: A specialty of Valencia is a drink called horchata. This sweet milky drink is made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts). While drinking it you dip large finger-shaped pastries called fartóns, and enjoy! Horchatería de Santa Catalina is the best and most charming spot in town.

VISIT: Undoubtedly the most impressive place to visit is Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences. This entertainment-based cultural and architectural center merits an entire day, or weekend if you can spare it. You really do feel as though you’ve entered another world.

BEACH IT: What makes Valencia such a desirable city for both locals and tourists is its beach life. Only thirty minutes via bus from the historic center you’ll find yourself lounging on the beach. After a dip in the warm water, find a shady spot and enjoy a siesta, you’ll probably need it!

In other news, I’m honored to be nominated as best expat blog! Please take a moment to vote here. Merci!

Packing for Paris

Several years ago, I left behind my earthly possessions and traveled the world. One of the greatest challenges in this journey of 13 months and 5 continents (and a total of 32 countries) was what to pack? One backpack sized suitcase would carry my new nomadic life. While I prepared this bag with great care, a new freedom greeted me, as I no longer felt encumbered by my possessions. Along the way I discovered how little is actually necessary, be it a week, a month or a year.

In the years that followed, I became an expert at packing and have learned to live out of a carry-on during my frequent jaunts to Italy, Spain or the French countryside. When women ask me what to bring when traveling to my current home of Paris, I am well equipped with a response. Men need not worry too much as jeans and a fitted shirt will suffice in most settings.

Since the majority of travel to Paris takes place during the Spring, Summer and Fall months, less is more. Regardless of how long you’ll be spending in the City of Lights, you don’t need attire for more than a week. After that, unless your hotel has laundry service, it’s time to discover the laverie automatique, otherwise known as the laundromat. It might even be wise to under pack, as Paris’s department stores and limitless boutiques revealing an array of French brands, are worth exploring. Or join me on a fashion tour!

Paris is by all accounts the fashion capital, but unless you’re planning to dine in 5-star settings, you can leave your stilettos at home. Street style takes over the right and left banks, where latest trends mix with vintage classics. There’s an understated elegance pervasive in the Parisian woman’s uniform.

So, what exactly is needed for a week stay? A jacket or coat (depending on the season), a sweater, casual shirts both long and short sleeve and a simple white button-down will have your top half covered. For the bottom, a pair of comfortable jeans, elegant slacks or jeans, a skirt and a little black dress. If it’s summertime, make that two dresses and a pair of shorts. Yes, Parisians do wear shorts, but leave the sweatpants at home.

As for shoes, a pair of trendy sneakers, comfortable walking shoes or boots, and a pair of flats or low heels for the evening. Ballerinas are a favorite of La Parisienne. Bring a bag to carry your daily essentials, sunglasses for the Parisian sun, a clutch for dinners out, a scarf for chilly evenings and an umbrella for rainy days. Finally, a hint of jewelry for the finishing touch. Make sure your separates mix and match well, and pack only what you feel your best in. Confidence is the best accessory!

Now book that ticket, start packing, and head for the fashion show that is Paris. Once you arrive you can read more about Paris on Bonjour Paris, where this article first appeared. Or send me a note and I’ll share my tips!

Le Chalet des Îles

Little did I know it was possible to go island hopping on the outskirts of Paris. Today my Italian and I discovered two islands in the midst of Bois de Boulogne. It was Sunday brunch at Le Chalet des Îles that brought us there. This chalet dates back to La Belle Époque. What began as a literary café, frequented by the likes of Marcel Proust and Émile Zola, became a reputable restaurant in later years.

Le Chalet des Îles is only reachable by boat, making it even more charming and exclusive of a destination.

Once seated in the outdoor terrace, the ambiance was relaxed yet elegant. Eyeing the copious buffet, I could tell we were in for a treat. The waiter confirmed this as he came over with two glasses of champagne and motioned us towards the selection of seafood, meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, sweets… And so began our feast.

We ended with dessert which was a mouth-watering sight for a sweet tooth like myself. It was hard to choose!

After a final coffee and a little exploring of the chalet, we were ready for a walk around the islands.

What we discovered were secluded spots for picnicking; children playing in the grass; couples floating on the lake in rowboats. What a picturesque weekend paradise! Well worth the 30 minute bike ride from the Marais.

We could easily have spend the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun, book in hand. And this is certainly what we plan to do next time, after brunch of course.

Sicily in Paris

The last trip I took to Sicily was both magical and inspirational. After Christmas in Trapani, we headed east to Cefalù followed by Ragusa and Siracusa, the latter being one of our favorite Sicilian cities. The colors and light which are unique to this island led me to create a new bag collection, just in time for the spring and summer seasons. Where better to shoot it than on Paris’s Île Saint-Louis with photographer Catherine O’Hara, who always captures Kasia Dietz handbags so perfectly. Here are a few favorite shots of the new Sicily collection.

By sharing this journey with you in the form of my creations, I hope these bags will inspire you to travel, and maybe even join you. As a special gift, take 20% off all Kasia Dietz handbags using code Sicily. Bon voyage!

Sintra

A quick 40-minute train ride from Lisbon lands you in the picturesque town of Sintra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were immediately taken with the romantic landscape. Following a path away from the masses of tourists, we found a picture perfect lunch spot overlooking the Palace of Sintra, built by the Moors in the Middle Ages. With only an afternoon, we chose two fairy tale scenes to discover.

Our first stop was the Moorish Castle, or what looks like the setting for Game of Thrones. This military fort was built just before the 10th century by the North African Moors. After falling into disrepair, is was restored by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century, and has since become a major tourist attraction.

We walked its lengthy walls and up its watchtowers. From a distance the Pena Palace was visible, our next stop.

The Park and Palace of Pena make up the most important part of Sintra’s cultural landscape. Arriving to this architectural marvel, it’s easy to understand why. The brightly colored palace is a balance of nature meets 19th century Portuguese Romanticism. In a word, stunning! I quickly learned that it was rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed this former 18th century monastery. It was King Ferdinand II who transformed it into a palace, creating the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. We spent the rest of the afternoon discovering the elaborate interior while marveling at the exterior facades. What an extraordinary work of art!

While we could certainly have stayed overnight in Sintra, I was happy to head back to Lisbon and continue our adventure. All the while during our return I wondered, how quickly could we return to Portugal?

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