La vie en français

In my continuing quest to perfect my French (some days I feel complete control and mastery of the language and others, less so), I have discovered a new platform. By connecting you with a local in your select country and city, airXpat assists anyone who is new, in settling in. In addition to language courses, they even help you find an apartment and deal with legal aspects. I know many fellow expats who could profit from these services! Curious to learn more, I connected to the site and quickly found a French teacher. What interested me most is that the lessons would take place around the city, a sort of cultural immersion while conjugating verbs.

At the suggestion of the teacher with whom I’d already had an initial assessment, my first meeting took place at Le Café Marly, set within the Louvre. I don’t think the location can get much more chic or French than this! Before the lesson even began, I was feeling confident and eager to learn. Once we met, I felt very much at ease, sipping café crème and speaking about all my favorite topics of travel, food and culture, in French bien sûr. 

As the hour lesson ended, I was clear on what I needed to do to improve my conversation skills and what I loved most about this city I call home. How could we not speak about our shared experience of living in Paris? I’m already looking forward to our next meeting, a new destination to explore and new vocabulary to learn. On y va!

The Velvet Hours

During these seven years living my own love story in the City of Lights, I’ve read quite a few others. One of the most romantic tales to date is the latest novel by international bestselling author Alyson Richman.

The Velvet Hours takes you into the lives of two women in very different circumstances, connected by a common thread. Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Richman composes a glamorous love story set in the period of the Belle Epoque. In colorful accounts of her life, Marthe de Florian recounts this story to granddaughter Solange. Marthe describes herself as A  woman of the demi-monde, the half-world. Caught between beauty and darkness. In some ways trapped, but in other ways completely free.

As the mysterious life of this beautiful courtesan is revealed to her, Solange tries to make sense of her own. She finds refuge in the company and stories of her grandmother as Germany invades France and Europe prepares for war. In time, she learns the secrets of her family history, and discovers her own unique path.

In lieu of Valentine’s Day, I share this book with you, written in Richman’s characteristic poetic prose. You can easily imagine yourself walking the streets of Paris, intertwined between the lives of Marthe and Solange. The Velvet Hours is certain to become a favorite of any romantic Francophile.

Nice: Top Picks

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After Paris, Nice is the largest city of art and culture in France. And if you like art as much as I do, then you must make a stop in this culturally rich city, where art finds a home, even around the city streets. There is so much to do and see in the capital of the Côte d’Azur, where does one even begin? By stopping in the Tourism Office you can certainly gather enough information to keep you busy for days. Or you can use this list of my top things to do, see and eat. Some of this advice comes from my Nicoise friend, and who better to trust than a local?

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SLEEP: To wake up surrounded by art and history, and with a view of the sea, stay at Le Negresco. This is the Art Hotel in Nice, and an experience you won’t ever forget. You can read all about my stay, here. If you’re on a budget, another artful option is Hotel Windsor, where each room is designed by a different artist.

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VISIT: With over fifteen museums and dozens of galleries, which are most worth visiting? That remains a matter of opinion depending on interest, but ones that I would not miss are Musée Matisse, exhibiting one of the world’s largest collections of Henri Matisse’s works, Musée Marc Chagall, dedicated to much of the artist’s religious work, and the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art, highlighting the work of more recent artists including sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle. I recommend picking up a 48 hour Museum Pass which will gain you affordable access to these and many other museums and galleries. Keep in mind that most are closed on Tuesdays.

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DO: To really get to know a city, stroll its morning markets. This is where you’ll interact with the locals and simply observe the life of the city. On Cours Saleya in the Old Town, there’s a market every morning from 6:30am. The most famous is the Marché aux Fleurs, or Flower Market, from Tuesday to Sunday. This market is the most well known, since it was in Nice that the first wholesale flower market in the world appeared in 1897. Here too you can purchase fruits and vegetables until around 1:30pm, with the flowers being sold until 5:30. If you’d like an expert guided tour of the food market followed by a cooking class, Rosa at Les Petits Farcis is your girl!

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EAT: The specialities of Nice include pissaladière, bread with a topping of caramelised onions, olives, garlic and anchovies, and socca, a sort of fried chickpea cake, much like the farinata I often eat in Cinque Terre. Both of these you can try at many cafes in the Old City. Here are food expert David Lebovitz’s favorite socca spots in Nice. As for where to dine, one local spot serving the best plate of pesto pasta I’ve ever eaten outside of Italy, is La Merenda. It’s a tiny restaurant in the Old Town that doesn’t take reservations, but worth the wait. Also be sure to stop by Maison Auer for the best candied fruit and chocolate covered almonds in France, among other delicacies!

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WALK: Be sure to walk around the Old Town and get lost in the maze of streets lined with pastel colored buildings. The Promenade des Anglais is the famous stretch in front of the sea. Follow it all the way to Castle Hill for the best views of the city and its surroundings. Climb the free elevator at the seaside; look for the ‘Ascenseur de la Chateau‘ sign. From the top you’ll have a view of Nice all the way to Antibes, and from the other side you can see Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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Le Negresco

My last trip to the Côte d’Azur was in March. I spent a little time in Nice but was eager to become better acquainted with this, the region’s capital. Aside from its Mediterranean climate, it’s a city of art and culture, another reason to fall in love with it. To properly immerse myself in the world of French art, where better to stay than at the historic hotel Le Negresco. Centrally located between Cannes and Monaco, it sits on the famous Promenade de Anglais. It is here in this National Historic Monument, that the French works of art from Louis XIII to modern art, have a home. I knew I would be in good company.

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Upon entering, the grandeur of this hotel is hard to describe. I’ve stayed in many beautiful hotels around the world, but Le Negresco is in a class of its own. The Versailles Lounge alone takes your breath away, with Louis XIV’s portrait, marble floors, hand-painted ceiling, and elegant furnishings. The fireplace too, is original. I could imagine the decadent events having taken place in this salon since Henri Negresco opened the hotel in 1913, now over 100 years old.

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Next I entered the Royal Lounge, centrally situated beneath a large glass dome. This is Negresco’s soul, and you can certainly feel it. Once an elegant ballroom, it’s now an elaborate event space, displaying portraits of French royalty, including Napoleon III. A stunning Baccarat chandelier provides the centerpiece. Fittingly, the hotel’s 93 year old owner Jeanne Augier’s portrait also has a place on the wall. After all, it is she who welcomes each guest to her home, which she has taken great pride in decorating. She lives on the top floor with her cat, and ensures that this private, family run hotel remains at the highest 5-star level in comfort and cuisine.

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A good friend from Nice had often spoken about the restaurants at Le Negresco, particularly the vibrant and colorful La Rotonde. It’s in fact an 18th century carousel with wooden horses circling the restaurant. My eyes opened wide in amazement as I entered this space and understood immediately why it’s such a warm and welcoming place dedicated to families. The terrace opens up to the sea and this is where I chose to have lunch, accompanied by the sun. Breakfast would be enjoyed in the carousel.

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Le Negresco is also known for its haute cuisine. Le Chantecler is Nice’s finest restaurant, with two stars in the Michelin Guide under the culinary expertise of chef Jean-Denis Rieubland. He defines his cuisine and style as “inspired by Provence, with the respect of its products and traditions”. This is THE place for French gastronomy, boasting a wine cellar of over 15,000 bottles, with woodwork dating back to 1751. After dinner you can unwind at the neighboring bar with live music and a good digestif.

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With each of the 96 rooms and 21 suites uniquely decorated with period furniture, I was eager to take a closer look. Mrs Augier being an art connoisseur and collector, walking through the hotel and up the four floors feels much like being in a museum, with artwork from Salvador Dali and Sonia Delaunay, tapestries from Raymond Moratti and sculptures from Niki de Saint Phalle, to name a few. And the rooms? Timeless perfection.

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I felt very much at home in my room overlooking the Bay of Angels and knew I would return to this Art Hotel called Le Negresco.

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Grand Sud : Part II

The following day it was time to visit the medieval town of Carcassonne, located in the Landuedoc region. I was eager to explore this World Heritage Site. Arriving just in time for lunch, I opted for the speciality of the region. Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole traditionally made with white beans and pork. Delicious! Onwards to the main attraction, the medieval citadel La Cité. First built in Gallo-Roman times, various additions were made in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s hard even to describe the grandness of this hilltop fortress.

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Within the walled Cité sits Château Comtal, a 12th-century castle. Led by an expert guide, I discovered this castle and its ramparts, which provided an incredible view of the town. I was blown away (quite literally in fact) by all the history. For a view from afar, I headed to the River Aude, followed by a walk around Carcassonne’s center.

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I also discovered the historic Canal du Midi, excavated in the XVIIth century, which links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I watched as numerous boaters used this main waterway along their route through Carcassonne. In 1996 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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As the sun was preparing to set, it was time to head back to the citadel. Just opposite  the 12th-century Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse, and a 2-minute walk from the Château Comtal, sat Hôtel de la Cité, my home for the night. What a regal setting! I already knew it would be hard to leave in the morning.

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I toured the elegant hotel, where once upon a time Winston Churchill slept, as did Princess Grace and Walt Disney. Now it was my turn to slumber within this Neo-Gothic mansion built in the XIX century. I couldn’t stop staring at the views from my balcony, rightfully so as the light kept changing and dusk settled in, the town illuminated in the distance.

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My next stop was dinner at La Barbacane, their Michelin star restaurant. Yes, I did feel like a princess in a castle. Thankfully, it wasn’t yet midnight and the dream continued.

 

 

Grand Sud : Part I

After returning to Paris for a quick change of clothes, I once again boarded the train, high speed ahead, direction south. Can one ever travel too much? Considering I once spent 13 months on the road, I think not. There is so much more to discover beyond the City of Lights, and along with the France Tourism Board I was well on my way to discovering. In just under 3 hours I arrived to Avignon.

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The first stop was lunch at a riverfront restaurant with quite a history. Guinguette de Vieux Moulin, located at the foot of the tower Philippe le Bel on the Rhone, a few miles from Avignon, opened in 1901. It was here that a bridge once linked the castle of the popes to Villeneuve les Avignon. In 1761, as the name suggests, 6 mills were installed, 3 for water and 3 for wind. In days past this was the place for fishing competitions and nautical games, now a place of relaxation and classic French cuisine.

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Onwards to the highlight of the day, a 2,000 year old aqueduct bridge. Pont du Gard is a 30 minute drive away, and worth every mile. Approaching the bridge from a distance, I was completely taken with the enormity and elegance of this ancient Roman structure. It’s hard to believe that this three level masterpiece, 360 meters long and 50 meters high was built in only 5 years.

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This massive bridge provided those living in Nîmes with running water for close to 5 centuries, making this a highly prestigious city in the south of France. Much of it was used for their bath houses. Water was collected from the Eure river at the foot of Uzès. Led by my expert tour guide I had the opportunity to discover the canalization, walking inside the bridge along the exact path where the water flows. Not to mention the views!

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Surround by 408 acres of a stunning natural landscape, this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon swimming, canoeing, enjoying the flight of Bonelli’s Eagles, that is, if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

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What makes it even more of a destination is that the Pont du Gard was the first French site to be awarded ‘Grand Site de France’ in 2004. This great honor presented by the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development, safely combines tourism, local life and the protection of nature. There are now 14 sites in France with this distinguished title. What’s more, this is a Unesco Heritage site since 1985.

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After several hours learning about the structure and admiring its grandeur, I dug deeper into the history of this Roman aqueduct by way of the museum. I could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon there but it was time now to continue the journey. I vowed to return for the annual music festival in July. What a venue! Now it was time to end the day a short drive away in the village of Castillon-du-Gard.

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As soon as I entered into the world of Le Vieux Castillon, located in the heart of this small Medieval village, I was enchanted. Newly renovated in minimalist elegance, this 32-room boutique hotel resides in a Renaissance building. Its history is felt in every room, within the spacious gourmet restaurant, through the courtyard and to the pool which overlooks the picturesque Provençal landscape. Just in time for sunset, I perched on a lounge chair to enjoy the view, and a moment of zen.

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Needless to say, when morning came, I didn’t want to leave this tranquil paradise. But it was time to discover another famous French destination.

Île de Ré

Is it possible to find the tranquility of the Mediterranean hidden in the Atlantic Ocean? Just west of La Rochelle sits the island of Île de Ré. Having heard much about this natural landscape boasting sandy beaches and 10 charming villages connected by cycling paths, I decided it was time to explore. This French summer hideaway seemed like the ideal weekend away. As is often our preference, we chose to visit off season.

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In just over three hours we arrived via train to La Rochelle. Since 1988 the city is linked to Île de Ré by bridge, providing easy access by car or shuttle bus. We chose the latter, since the main mode of island transport is by bicyle. No car is needed. The afternoon was cloudy and windy, with hints of blue setting the scene for the next few days. We chose to stay in Saint-Martin-de-Ré, the island’s capital and what is considered one of the most picturesque of the villages. We arrived easily by bus and settled into our elegant hotel on the harbor. As it was the weekend, the village was bustling with locals and second home owners taking advantage of the Indian summer. Nineteen miles long and two to three miles long, this small island with a population of 18,000, grows to 130,000 during the summer months. Soon, I would discover its appeal.

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The following day we rented bicycles and began our journey along the coast. Passing marshes and salt farms we made our way to the smallest of the villages, Loix. Thus began our love affair with the island. From there we rode south to Ars-en-Ré, a larger village with an active port. After lunch we met a few friends from Paris (fortunate are those with family homes in such a beautiful natural setting), and joined them at the beach near La Couarde-sur-Mer. On the path home, we rode through countless vineyards, the season’s harvest ripe for picking. The landscapes all so beautifully preserved. As the sun hung low in the sky, we had just enough time to get lost in the tangle of Saint-Martin’s streets.

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The next day we hopped back on the bikes, first stop: oysters. I was in heaven. We sat along the coast during low tide and feasted on tender shrimp and the freshest oysters I’d eaten since our trip to Cap Ferret. A glass of local white wine to compliment. Our next stop was La Flotte, another inviting port village. We were completely smitten by these picture-perfect villages; streets filled with shuttered homes in pastel shades of green, gray and blue; ivy creeping up walls and flowers growing around every corner. The charm was immeasurable. Our journey continued to a long sandy beach close to the village of Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré. I could imagine the surfing and kite-boarding during the summer months. But now it was just us, along with a handful of couples and young families, enjoying the off-season serenity. Perfect timing, if you ask me.

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When evening fell and it was time to return to Paris, we were not eager to leave the island and vowed to return. There were more villages to explore, more local pineau to taste and oysters to savor. I could now understand why Île de Ré was considered such an island paradise. A secret the French keep well, and now one I share with you. Here are my recommendations for island life in Saint-Martin-de-Ré.

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SLEEP: Hôtel de Toiras is a five-star Relais & Châteaux property located on the port of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, providing a luxurious setting for a weekend away, or longer. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with old French charm. The entire setting is regal and elegant. Five years ago, the hotel acquired a beautiful old mansion and created its sister hotel, Villa Clarisse. Set father back in the village, this four-star hotel offers 9 rooms set in a lush garden with a pool. Either location makes a perfect home in the heart of the island.

EAT LOCAL: Le Bistro du Marin is THE local spot, located on the port. They don’t take reservations so prepare to wait by the bar, especially if you’d like to dine outside, or en terrace. Their hearty meat dishes served with delicious home fries and fresh fish specials are certainly worth waiting for! Not to mention their homemade profiteroles. Both lunch and dinner are served daily, closed Thursdays.

EAT GOURMET: Les Embruns is just behind the port and well worth a dinner reservation (you must book ahead as they get full very quickly). This is the place for seafood, with lobster salad worth ordering, and a variety of fish dishes on the menu. For 30€ you can try the tasting menu. It’s hard to go wrong in this charmingly kitschy restaurant. Open only for dinner during the high season, closed Tuesdays.

EAT OYSTERSRé Ostréa is a casual lunch spot along the bike path from Saint-Martin-de-Ré heading west. It’s hard to miss with its colorful chairs, always full in the high season. Here you can dine on an assortment of seafood, including of course, local oysters. The fresh shrimps too, are heavenly! All dishes are accompanied by a glass of local wine. This is a must stop while on the island.

EAT SWEETSLa Martinière is a family run ice-cream and pastry shop. It’s a MUST stop while on the island, though we missed out on this sweet experience since it was closed for renovations. Next time!

DRINK: Ile de Ré is not so much known for their wines as for the French apéritif Pineau, a blend of wine and cognac. As it’s a sweet drink, I quickly became a fan. You can taste it at any bar or wine shop.

CYCLE: With quite a few bike rental companies to choose from, I found Cycland to be one of the best, with a great assortment of bikes and locations in 9 of the 10 villages. Definitely use bicycles to get around the island!

VISIT: Ernest Cognacq Museum is a Renaissance style mansion highlighting the historical, artistic and military heritages of the island. Worth a stop for a quick history lesson!

 

villages of the Luberon

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I had last visited the Luberon with it’s picture perfect villages during my around-the-world travels in 2007. Having such vivid memories, I was eager to return and continue to explore this region, this time with my Italian in tow. Our first stop was the village of Roussillon at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains, famous for it’s ochre cliffs and infinite shades of red and orange.

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Without a set plan in mind, we decided to explore Lacoste. Love at first sight! This picturesque old mountain village felt like stepping into a movie set. It was nearly deserted, with so many cobbled corners to explore. We managed to find a little cafe for lunch while admiring the views.

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Our next stop was the equally charming walled village of Ménerbes. Here we stopped for a coffee and chatted with fellow tourists who were also on the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur path of discovery.

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There’s only so much you can see in a day, and it was nearing time to head back to Paris. Along the way we passed the once Roman village of Gordes, with breathtaking views from the road. A must see!

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Our final stop was the Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey, which still houses a community of Cistercian monks. We stocked up on lavender in their boutique and walked the length of  this historic landscape.

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We returned to Paris with scents of lavender and honey and visions of hilltop villages. Until next time…

24 hours in Avignon

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Last weekend we celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary with a trip to Provence. How better to spend such a special occasion than traveling amidst one of the most beautiful settings in France? Our adventures started in Avignon. With only 24 hours to spare, we spent as much time as possible getting lost within the town’s 4.3 kilometers of stone ramparts, viewing modern art, admiring historic landmarks and dining on Provençal specialties. So, how best to spend a day in this 14th century city of art and culture? Here are a few ideas.

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STAY in the heart of the town overlooking the main square at Hotel l’Horloge.

VISIT the impressive collection of modern and contemporary art at Collection Lambert.

VISIT the fortress and palace Palais des Papes, the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century.

DINE at creatively inspired modern bistro L’Agape off the tourist track tucked in a charming square.

DRINK a glass of rosé (or Châteauneuf-du-Pape) in the outdoor cafes overlooking the Palais des Papes.

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The following day we hit the road, first stop the small village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. After the a decadent lunch in the most charming garden, we explored the Sorgue river. France’s most powerful spring (and the world’s fifth most powerful), this river supplies the region with water, emerald green and dazzling to the eye!

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Next it was time to settle into our stunning home in the Luberon…

Château de Chenonceau

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Moments upon arriving to Château de Chenonceau, this majestic castle with its immaculate landscaped gardens, captivated us both. Set upon the River Cher, I now understood why this was the favorite château of many. This 16th century marvel of Gothic and early Renaissance architecture stood tall against gray skies, the Marques tower across the bridge from the château. What adds to the unique history are the women who called this their home. The favorite residence of Catherine de Medici, while Diane de Poitiers was its mistress. But it was Louise Dupin who saved the château from destruction during the French Revolution, stating that “It was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles.”

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The interior of the château was equally regal. The grand ballroom once held festivities organized by Catherine de Medici in honor of her son King Henri III.

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Catherine de Medici’s Renaissance bedroom was outfitted with rare Flanders tapestries from the 16th century, and a painting by Correggio representing ‘The Education of Love’.

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To prove his devotion to both his wife and his mistress, King Henry II gave them each a garden. This one was Catherine’s, a design of 5 lawns centered around an elegant circular pond, “intimate” at 5,500m2.

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Diane’s garden, composed of two perpendicular and two diagonal paths bordering eight large, lawned triangles is 12,000m2 in size. Each season reveals a variety of blossoms.

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It was difficult to leave this stunning landscape and the stories it told. With one last glance we bid farewell.

Baumanière

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of discovering Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence to be exact. A quaint little commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southern France, considered one of the most beautiful of French villages. But it was Baumanière, set at the foot of the Alpilles mountains that won my heart.

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Home became one of the 5 buildings creating the luxury Relais & Chateaux property Baumanière Les Baux de Provence. Once upon a time in 1945, visionary Raymond Thuillier fell in love with this forgotten land nicknamed “Le Val d’Enfer (Hell’s Valley) and out of one small farmhouse he created an entire Provençal universe, where movie stars, writers and politicians became guests at his highly regarded gastronomic table. Among them Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.

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In 2015, at the helm of Jean-André Charial and his wife Genevieve, Baumanière Les Baux de Provence celebrated its seventieth anniversary. And they have much to celebrate as their remote property continues to attract guests and acclaim from around the world. Each building reveals a unique ambiance, with each of its 55 spacious rooms and suites decorated in old charm and modern amenities. I could have easily stayed for a week. Did I mention they recently opened a spa with an array of beauty products made with local olive oil?

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For both lunch and dinner I eagerly dined at the 2-Michelin star restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière, with young, dynamic and innovative chef Glenn Viel taking charge in the kitchen. Cooking classes are offered!

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I spoke in length with the charming Jean-André, topics ranging from the love of his inherited land, his passion for cooking with simple and fresh ingredients (he even gave me a tour of the greenhouses where he grows many of his herbs and vegetables), and his deep adoration for Italy. Genevieve had a unique elegance and warmth and I felt very welcomed in their home. She even took a liking to my bags (and my accent) and is now selling Kasia Dietz handbags in their exclusive Baumanière Boutique!

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I fondly recall my morning reflections, sitting on my private terrace, listening to the calm of nature and thinking, if ever we decide to leave Paris, Provence would certainly be a nice place to call home.

a taste of Beaune

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Last spring I discovered Dijon and became enamored with the Burgundy region. This year it was time to visit the smaller town of Beaune. Our first stop was Hotel Le Cep, a historic mansion where King Louis XIV once slept. This family run 4-star hotel boasts 16th century courtyards with rooms and suites decorated in endless charm. My Italian and I immediately felt at home as we were warmly welcomed by gracious owner Jean-Claude Bernard, who spoke of his family hotel’s rich history. Just outside Le Cep’s doors, Beaune awaited to be explored. Where to go first? We headed directly to the Tourism Office to consult the experts.

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Our main objective being to discover and taste the local specialties, we headed straight to the prestigious wine cellars of Bouchard Père & Fils, once the ancient castle of Beaune. Touring their cave, we found select wines aged over 100 years! Needless to say, those we tasted were quite a bit younger. Here began a weekend of tasting some of the best wines in France.

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Saturday morning the sun shone brightly and we met our new neighbors at the local market. I’ve been to many markets all over the country, but this one appeared to be straight out of a film set. Were we the extras?

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Our next stop was mustard factory Fallot, the last independent family mustard mill in Burgundy. We were met by Marc Désarménien whose family had started producing Fallot mustard in 1840. The mustard making process is a fascinating one as we learned, being led through the factory, chewing on mustard seeds along the way. Afterwards, tasting the dozens of flavors of Fallot mustard was an experience! My favorites being the classic grainy variety with white wine, followed by walnut, and honey and fig.

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Wine and mustard aren’t the only gastronomic delicacies that have put Beaune on the map. This town too is a haven for haute cuisine. Where did we choose among the many options? Here’s my short list:

La Bussionière: Charming husband and wife run restaurant that recently moved into the center of Beaune. Selection of fresh local produce, creating delicious regional dishes.

Loiseau des Vignes: One of highly regarded Loiseau family restaurants, awarded a Michelin star in 2010 under chef Mourad Haddouche, adjacent to Hotel Le Cep. A gastronomic paradise, with 70 wines served by the glass.

Le P’tit Paradis: An intimate restaurant in the heart of the town for over 20 years, where seasonal tastes mingle with inventive dishes. Outdoor terrace for spring and summer dining.

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When not wine tasting or dining, we were educating ourselves to the history of Beaune. It was in a walking tour with history buff and wine expert Kim Gagné that we learned the most. She brought us to the famous Hospices de Beaune, also called Hôtel-Dieu. Built in the 15th century and once a hospital mainly for the poor, it’s now a museum. Every November, an important charity wine auction is held within this historic building.

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Before heading back to Paris, we decided a tour of the vineyards would prove the best lesson of all in wine culture. Our lovely guide Brigitte from Vineatours picked us up at Le Cep and into the villages and vineyards we drove, passing Pommard and Volnay along the way. We stopped at a private vineyard and tasted a small production of premier and grand cru, increasing our home collection of Bourgogne wines.

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This charming town had won my heart. Filled with the sensations of Beaune, and plenty of mustard and wine, we boarded the train back to Paris, a quick 2 hour ride. Next time we vowed, we’ll return for a biking tour.

Côte d’Azur

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Last week I joined Mediterranean travel aficionado Megan of Bella Vita Travels for a whirlwind tour of the Côte d’Azur, leaving grey skies in Paris for golden hues in the French Riviera. I hadn’t been down south for almost five years, since our journey to Bormes les Mimosas. Six hours via train, there I was in Nice, ready to discover just what makes this part of France so enchanting. Our first stop was the Medieval village of Mougins.

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I was immediately smitten by this hilltop artists commune, once inhabited by creative elite including Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Yves Klein, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf & Jacques Brel. This too is where Picasso spent his last 12 years of life.

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From there it was a short drive to Cannes, where many of today’s film stars can be found strolling along the boulevards, particularly during the famed film festival. Did we spot any? None that I could recognize…

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The next stop was Antibes, a charming old town enclosed by 16th-century ramparts. Here we spent a glorious afternoon with a glass of rosé and views of the town Juan-les-Pins. Picasso too made his mark here; the castle where he stayed is now the Picasso Museum.

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Not far away was a small medieval village perched atop a cliff, 1,401 feel above sea level to be exact. Thus, Èze is often called an “eagle’s nest”. Again, I was smitten.

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Before returning to Nice we stopped in the harbor town of Villefranche. Now I understand why so many choose to make this colorful spot their home while visiting the riviera.

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Back in Nice I was eager to explore this Mediterranean city, feeling very much at home on the French Riviera. With the sun leading our path, we discovered delicious farm to table dining at Le Canon, and local cooking school Les Petits Farcis, should we choose to take a market tour and cook our own Niçois meal. Next time!

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I could have easily spent more time exploring this city of art and culture while savored more sunsets in the south, but it was time to return north for adventures in Burgundy. Next stop: Beaune.

Paris staycation

Last weekend my Italian and I took a staycation in Paris, crossing the river from rive droite’s trendy 3rd to rive gauche’s chic 7th arrondissement. Why not vacation in your own city? My home was one of Paris Perfect‘s luxurious apartments, and my neighbor was none other than Madame Eiffel herself. Right away I felt welcomed.

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Needless to say, I couldn’t stop staring at the iron lady. Whether I sat on the balcony, lay in bed, or sank into a warm bath, there she was. I daresay the Chambertin apartment has quite the view, not to mention charm.

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What I quickly learned is that Paris Perfect excels in hospitality and services. A few other guests and I took a traditional French cooking class at the glamorous Margaux apartment, learning to make gougère among other specialties, our meal ending with saffron cream and a lesson in champagne and wine pairing. Parfait!

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I was sorry to leave this new home, but alas, every holiday has to come to an end, even one in your own city.

living a language

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I decided not to make resolutions this year but I did make intentions. You can’t break intentions, can you? One of them is to improve my French. I’ve been living in Paris for over 6 years, and of course I speak the language. On a daily basis I speak French with my manufacturer, fabric suppliers, yoga teachers, travel industry professionals, friends… and even my Italian on occasion. I get by perfectly well. But I want to improve. My goal is to speak French with the fluency with which I speak Polish, a language I learned as a child. (Thanks Mom!) After mastering French I plan to conquer Italian, which I’ve already started speaking, finding it much easier to understand and learn, already knowing French. In my efforts to speak like a Parisian, I’ve discovered an online course that has been helping me more than the many methods I’ve tried in the past. (And I’ve tried many!) Here’s a little taste…

 

Learning a language should be fun, which is why Frantastique proves to be so successful. Each lesson is short, humorous, and personalized to the student’s level. To share my love of the French language with you, and to better prepare for your next trip to Paris, here’s a month free with Frantastique. I’ll be learning along with you, so feel free to let me know how you’re doing. Enjoy living a language & good luck, or should I say bonne chance!

Fall for France

Sometimes life brings you full circle. Last spring I was invited along with Leah Walker, by the France Tourism Board Rendez-vous en France, to join their annual campaign in which they highlight and promote select cities in France. In my many years as a print producer in New York, (in which field I still work from time to time), I often traveled to foreign locales, managing campaigns for various advertising agencies. This time however, my role was as blogger and social media marketer. Wow, no production work! Though I was more than happy to assist whenever needed. The campaign, shot by talented photographer Braden Summers and assisted by a well curated crew stemming from all over the globe, began on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Some of the best views of the city of lights!

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Braden and crew continued from Paris to Poitiers, Nice and Marseille before I caught up with them in Dijon. What a magical city filled with history, wine and of course mustard. Read more about my Dijon adventures here.

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Our next and last stop on the France tour was Reims, the land of champagne. After a private tasting at the famous champagne house Taittinger, Leah and I joined the group for the final day of photography. Our last scene took place at a gorgeous private home with a grand picnic a la Française. You can even spot me running off in the distance with Sophie from Atout France.

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For those heading to Miami Art Basel next week, stop by the France Pavilion to discover this years stunning traveling photo exposé of “Top French Cities”. The campaign can also be viewed here. Or better yet, come to France!

Hôtel de Ville

Often I walk past Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ City Hall since 1357, and always I wonder what the interior looks like. This neo-renaissance building houses the local administration, and since 1977, the Mayor of Paris. Rebuilt after the original burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871, it sits close to the Seine, bordering the famed Marais and attracting all who pass by its regal structure. Very often an art exhibition takes place within or outside its walls.

IMG_2045Every September, Les Journées du Patrimoine or Heritage Days, envelop Paris. For these 2 days it’s possible to visit monuments & sites usually not accessible to the public, for free, if you don’t mind standing in line, sometimes for hours.

Read More

Christmas in Paris

Friend and fellow traveler Lynne Martin, author of Home Sweet Anywhere (a book I highly recommend) and blogger at Home Free Adventures, asked me to describe celebrating Christmas in Paris as an expat. I took a moment to think about what makes the city of lights even brighter during the holidays, and having spent many a holiday season in Paris, here is what I came up with. You an also find this article online at TravelSmith!

What is it about Christmas time in Paris that truly captivates the senses? Where to begin…

The intimacy of the sidewalk cafes with their heat lamps and blankets, beneath which you can indulge in a glass of seasonal mulled wine. The street vendors selling roasted chestnuts on many a corner. The annual holiday markets scattered around the city, revealing an array of artisanal gift ideas. But I suspect it’s the culinary specialties from various regions of France that draw the crowds. My favorites include raclette and the more decadent tartiflette, hailing from the Haute-Savoie.

Known for their pâtisseries, it’s no surprise that the French celebrate Christmas with cake. The bûche de Noël originally represented the yule log, a sponge cake with a bark-like texture made of buttercream. Many variations can be found around Paris, each more decadent than the last. Beginning in late December, pastry shops in Paris fill their windows with galettes des rois, or King Cake, to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. A good luck charm called la fève is baked inside this puff pastry filled with frangipane, and whoever’s piece contains la fève is crowned king or queen for the day. The cobbled streets sparkle, each dressed in it’s own string of holiday lights. The Champs Elysées glows the brightest of all, each year in late November a lighting ceremony takes place, with thousands of fairy lights lit along this grand boulevard. Yet another reason why Paris is so often referred to as the City of Lights.

At the grands magasins including Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, and Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, the window displays are reminiscent of theatre sets, revealing animated Christmas scenes that leave both young and old marveling. Often a family trip is taken to view these story-telling windows.

We cannot forget the celebrated churches. My first Christmas in Paris was spent at Notre Dame Cathedral. The choir alone was worth braving the crowds, as they filled the 800 year old space with song, a midnight mass never to be forgotten. Even passing by the Notre Dame by night, the majestic sparkling Christmas tree will take your breath away.

Christmas in Paris

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you happy holidays + a bright and happy new year!

Follow my holiday adventures in Andalucia, Spain, via instagram and facebook.

adventures down south

In mid-August my Italian and I decided to do like the Parisians, leave Paris to the tourists, and venture south. I had heard a lot about the unpretentious charm of France’s Cap Ferret, and was eager to discover it for myself. It has been likened to Montauk, the most unspoilt part of the Hamptons, where I grew up. Our first stop was lunch in a rainy but elegant Bordeaux. I know little of this city, this being my second visit, but look forward to becoming better acquainted in the future.

IMG_5619Rather than head directly to this trendy enclave, we stopped in Arcachon for a few days. Just enough time to meet with friends and climb the highest sand dunes in all of Europe.

IMG_5737The Dune du Pilat measures 107 meters high and I felt rather accomplished reaching the top!

IMG_5697We spent the afternoon climbing, jumping, running… and sitting beneath the late summer sun.

IMG_5968Our next stop was Cap Ferret. We settled in with a plate of oysters, local wine, and a view.

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The dominant mode of transport is by bike. And that is how we explored this little French paradise.

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I could immediately understand why it was compared to Montauk with it’s chic yet relaxed vibe.

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After many great meals including at the highly revered Chez Hortense, it was time to bid adieu.

IMG_6006Via boat and train we made our way back to Paris filled with sounds and tastes of the sea.

Auvers-sur-Oise

This past spring when my mom came to visit, I thought about where to bring her. Last year we had explored Chantilly, and while it would have been a lovely time of year to visit Giverny, I opted to be more creative and we ventured to Auvers-sur-Oise. This commune, only about 27 kilometers northwest of Paris, was once home to the Impressionists. More specifically, Paul Cézanne, Charles-François Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and, Vincent van Gogh.

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IMG_1742This was a trip into Van Gogh’s life. It was incredible to be amidst the church that he once painted.

IMG_1744It is here that he rests alongside his brother Theo, who passed away only 6 months after Vincent.

IMG_1750The next stop was Château d’Auvers where we discovered a most insightful interactive journey into the lives of the Impressionists. A unique experience! Not to mention the breathtaking gardens…

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As the sun was setting we walked the length of the estate, reflecting on years long gone.

IMG_1820It was time to bid farewell to Auvers-sur-Oise. Like the artists before us, we headed back to Paris.

Peninsula paradise

In 1908, at the height of the Belle Époque, one of Paris’s most luxurious hotels opened at 19 Avenue Kléber in the 16ème arrond. Hotel Magestic was among the most elegant addresses in Paris and certainly a place to see and be seen! In the decades to follow, this late 19th century Haussmanian building lost it’s luster as it’s hotel doors closed and instead it housed various organizations.

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It was in 2008 that Katara Hospitality group decided to restore the building and create in it’s grand space the Peninsula Paris. I was lucky enough to be invited to the preview of this, the first Peninsula Hotel in all of Europe, and the 10th in the world.

Kleber EntranceI arrived to a red carpet, jazz musicians and champagne flowing! Following a presentation on the building’s history and the meticulous attention to detail in the restoration and modernization process, we met the highly skilled chefs & pâtissiers in charge of the hotel’s six dining options. Executive Chef Jean-Edern Hurstel’s “farm to table” philosophy is certain to please many a palate.

L'Oiseau Blanc Terrace copyPerhaps my favorite of the restaurants is L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) situated on the rooftop. Is it here where I met the Marchand brothers, the hotel’s fromagiers, and tasted an exquisite goat’s cheese with a hint of rose. Following this dairy decadence I was served a dessert that I cannot even begin to describe, a creation by award-winning Chef Pâtissier Julien Alvarez. With a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, I could envision the many lavish evenings that were soon to come to life in this new found paradise.

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As I toured the hotel, I took note of the many historic details. Some of France’s finest artisans were hand-picked to restore this grand structure to it’s former glory. Needless to say, what resulted in the 6 years of restoration is the ultimate in French craftsmanship.

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On August 1st the Peninsula Paris will welcome it’s first guests, in regal style. And in the days to follow I will certainly be one of them, at the least sipping a cocktail on a familiar terrace.

Dîner en Blanc

This year I finally made it to the annual Dîner en Blanc. This invite-only secret dinner party began 25 years ago by a man named François Pasquier. He invited a few friends to the Bois de Boulogne on an evening in June, and asked that everyone bring another friend. All the attendees wore white in order to find one another more easily. (My friend Delphine’s parents were among the first dinner guests!) The event was a grand success and each successive year friends invited friends and it grew into a 10,000+ dinner party. I’ve always loved the idea of it, even given all the preparation ahead of time. Everyone attending must provide their own food, drink, even tables and chairs, and all must be white! Considering it’s not exactly legal, the prestigious location is disclosed just before the dinner actually begins. This year the grand event took place along 6 bridges. Our designated spot was close to Pont Alexandre III, with gorgeous views of the Grand Palais and Eiffel Tower.

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IMG_2563 IMG_2575 IMG_2586It was one of those magical nights spent with friends both old and new, wrapped in warm summer air and the setting sun, surrounded by the grandeur of Paris, that remains with you forever.

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Could there have been a more perfect setting? We’ll see where next year finds us.

wine on the Seine

 What better place to sample French wines than in a boat on the Seine?

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On a recent overcast afternoon I experienced Wine Tasting in Paris, started by wine connoisseur Thierry Givone. Admittedly, I didn’t know too much about the many wine regions of Paris, other than which regions produce my favorite wines, namely Bourgogne and Bordeaux. And the Champagne region of course! This was the perfect occasion, not to mention setting, in which to educate myself.

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I was joined by friend Amy Feezer. Following a glass of bubbly we all became better acquainted.

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One glass of wine followed another, from the Loire to Bourgogne to the Côtes du Rhône. And with each glass a thorough description of the grapes, the notes, the tastes… even a lesson in the way wine should be savoured. Thierry has a particular affinity towards Bourgogne, that region being his home, but he is an expert on all regions of France and certainly has developed a nose for wine! I was pleased to taste wines I would otherwise not have thought to try, and was impressed with Thierry’s expertise and attention to detail when it came to French wines.

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After over 3 hours of tastings and conversation, with a view of the sun setting over the Seine in the distance, Amy and I left the boat a little bit tipsy and a lot more knowledgeable. Santé!

For more information: www.wine-tasting-in-paris.com and Facebook and Twitter

 

epicurean extravaganza

Recently I was invited to what can truly be considered a food lover’s paradise, the inauguration of the brand new La Grande Épicerie de Paris. This uber gourmet food hall located within the Le Bon Marché is the spot for anything indulgent, from everywhere in the world. And indulge we did!

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The night commenced with a presentation by the bakers and butchers, fit for a king. Champagne flowed, accompanied by plentiful platters of fois gras, oysters, and cheeses, France’s finest. It wouldn’t be a party without a selection of fine Italian hams… and a heavenly chocolate fountain!

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The fruits, vegetables and produce were elegantly displayed like works of art.

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I felt grateful to live in a country that celebrates food so ceremoniously!

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The icing on the cake, aside from the many desserts we inhaled (including macarons and freshly dipped ice-cream pops),  was DJ & comedian Ariel Wizman, spinning tunes in chef Jean-Jacques Massé’s new restaurant La Table. This was certainly the epicurian extravaganza of the year!

Read more about the grand new epicerie on France Today.

fit for a king

A few weeks ago a dear family friend was in town. Since she’s already seen much of Paris, I planned a day of historic elegance in a landscape not too far away. We boarded a bus on an overcast morning, and soon arrived to the legendary, and now private estate, Château de Vaux le Vicomte.

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Here began our adventure into the life of Nicolas Fouquet, who created this 17th century castle.

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This majestic masterpiece was a collaboration between architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. A ‘home and garden’ to be admired by all.

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Yet the story behind Monsieur Fouquet and his château is a unique and tragic one.

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In brief, after throwing a lavish party in his new home, Fouquet was arrested by Louis XIV (who had plotted against him out of jealousy), and spent his remaining days behind bars, unlawfully so.

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In the famous words of Voltaire, “On 17 August at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France; at 2 in the morning, he was nobody”.

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As we wandered the château and landscape, the gray sky set a sobering mood. At once in awe and aghast at the history lesson upon us. Certainly a castle fit for a king, perhaps even too much so.

hidden romanticism

Clandestinely situated down a long alleyway on an unassuming street in the 9eme arrondissement, sits the house of painter Ary Scheffer, also known as the Musée de la Vie Romantique (Museum of the Romantics). How did I not know about this earlier? I decided to venture there on a sunny morning, with friend and fellow romantic Jacquelyn, to explore this artist’s home, dedicated to the arts and literature of the first half of the XIXth century. Truly a hidden gem!

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It is here that much of writer George Sand‘s memorabilia are displayed including portraits, pens, jewelry… even her hair! An impressive collection. Incidentally, this famous writer and mistress of Chopin, once lived on my street in the Marais!

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After touring the house’s many chambers, filled with landscape paintings by George Sand and portraits by Ary Scheffer, we took our romantic musings to the garden.

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A memorable morning spent with the romantics… and a new favorite hideaway in Paris.

Musée de la Vie Romantique
16 rue Chaptal 75009

Château de Chantilly

During my mom’s recent visit to Paris, we decided to take her for a day trip. Where else but to a château? Less than 30 minutes by train lies the town of Chantilly, home to a spectacular château spanning the 14th to 19th centuries, not to mention chantilly cream, which in itself is worth the trip!

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Our first stop was the Grand Stables. Yes, horses do still live within this admirable structure!

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At first sight the Château de Chantilly exhibits an air of serene magnificence.

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The Musée Condé boasts the grandest collection of paintings in France, after the Louvre of course.

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I could not stop admiring (and photographing) the château from every angle, both near and far.

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A idyllically regal day spent beneath blue skies and the historic charm of France.

diner à la française

IMG_4463For those living outside of France, or even for many of those on the inside, what does it really feel like to dine with the vrai français? How do the French dine, what do they serve and with which formalities, what do their homes look like? Personally, I’m lucky to have a few dear French friends who have graciously opened their homes to me. But I still often wonder what secrets are discovered at these French dinners.

By the clever collaboration of Renaud Maigne who often traveled for work and was tired of dining alone, “The thing we remember the most is the personal exchange we’ve had with the locals who tell you about their country and traditions.”, and Matthieu Heslouin who wanted to make the foreign dining experience accessible to all, “Thematic dinners are as numerous as the passions of the hosts. To each his own dinner! Or in French, à chacun son dîner!” Thus VoulezVousDîner was born! Dinner parties for all to attend, all around the world.

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I was eager to attend one of these Paris dinners, and chose Diner Concert Chez Sacha. Gourmet dinner followed by a piano concert? Yes please! My Italian and I arrived first, how very un-French of us, and we became acquainted with our lovely host Sasha and her friend Carl, who generously poured the champagne. Another French couple arrived and we were seated at a table set with plates designed by Sacha herself. Before the food was even served, I was impressed!

Once dinner began we all became well acquainted and shared various musings on life in Paris, both from the perspective of locals and foreigners, while Sacha told us all about her history with cooking and her passion for pottery. Each course was creatively inspired, delicious and plentiful, paired with select wines and ending with dessert… and cheese bien sûr!

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To end the evening, Sacha performed a few piano pieces as we sipped on a digestif. It was certainly a night to remember! Looking forward to my next VoulezVousDîner, in Paris or elsewhere.

pique-niqueing & pétanque

IMG_2670 2When the sun comes out, so do the Parisians. On a recent spring-like day, moods were high and there was a lightness evident in the air. Now this is what spring is meant to feel like! My Italian and I joined a group of friends at the gardens of the Palais Royal for my favorite summer pastime, le pique-nique. It was here too that I played my first game of pétanque, the famous French sport so often played in and around Paris. Immediately I took a liking to this game of ball throwing, even winning a few times. Perhaps the champagne helped!

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It was beneath these blue skies that once again, I felt lucky to live within such immense beauty.

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On the way home, a little surprise in the form of fashion to end a well-spent day, la vie parisienne.

L’Amour (or less)

One of the great joys of living as an expat in Paris is that it has exposed me to other like-minded Americans, who equally find their creative voice and pursue their dreams, on French soil. Whether it be in the form of American-style cupcakes, sweet stories, designer pillows, or even treasure hunts in the Louvre, each of these women is following her passion. I am proud to be among them.

Most recently another friend and fellow expat has spoken, this time through film. An actress and film-maker from NYC, Jennifer Geraghty arrived to Paris no more than 2 year ago, and now, she has a few stories to tell. Namely, all about the romantic tales between expats and the French. All true stories, not all her own. Certainly enough to entice any  mademoiselle or monsieur out there who wonders about dating in the French capital! Have a look, listen, and share the love! Jennifer and her collaborator Alexis are in the midst of raising funds via kickstarter to turn these tales into a series of short stories, 12 of which are already written. To learn more, here’s their website.

To add a little incentive in the form of Kasia Dietz handbags, I’ve designed a custom hand-painted tote for those able to donate a generous sum. More info on their kickstarter page

L'Amour (or less) tote by Kasia Dietz

May these tales of LAmour (or less) come to life!

afternoon with Rodin

Every first Sunday of the month, Paris art aficionados receive a gift from the city. Many museums and cultural institutions in and around Paris are open, free of charge. Though I believe art should be free and museums should admit their patrons by donation only. On such a recent Sunday, the sun was shining over bright blue skies, and there was no way not to enjoy it, in the company of art. We chose one of my favorites, the ‘progenitor of modern sculpture’, Auguste Rodin.

Musée Rodin reveals one of the most spectacular gardens in Paris, home of The Thinker.

Sculptures amidst trees, strewn in the late afternoon sunshine.

The Gates of Hell, one of Rodin’s most notable sculptures.

I sat by the lake and thought of the life Rodin must have led, and what inspired him to create.

Perhaps withing this regal structure I will find the answers.

tastings with a view

Every Fall I look forward to the wine harvest in Montmartre, the Fête des Vendanges. An annual event during which I don’t mind braving the crowds surrounding the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, eager to sample the various regional wines, paired with plentiful samples of cheese and fois gras, bien sûr!

This year my friend Sarah was in town from Rome, a wine aficionado as luck would have it, and she too was eager to indulge her palate in the tastes of France.

Amidst all the tastings there was entertainment and we even ran into Lily of Context Travel, toting her custom Kasia Dietz bag, designed exclusively for Context Travel.

 Our last tasting was vin chaud, a perfect grand finale. Now it was time to enjoy the view.

Paris, My Sweet

“Fantasies do come true. Despite my moments of uncertainty and pangs of loneliness, I was loving life in Paris. I was so smitten with the Gallic city’s grand, plane-tree-lined boulevards and ever-so-slightly crooked side streets, its countless café terraces and the ritual of lingering on them with a single café crème or coupe de champagne.” – Amy Thomas in Paris, My Sweet

photo by Lindsey Tramuta

Amy Thomas. A writer, ad girl and francophile from New York City with a highly refined palate (and appetite) for sweets. A woman after my own heart! As fate would have it, our paths were meant to cross in Paris, where she auspiciously found herself writing ad copy for prestigious client Louis Vuitton. Pas mal! Upon meeting Amy, I immediately sensed an authenticity in her character, natural warmth, and a passion for life. Yes, we would have been friends in New York. Getting to know Amy through our shared experience of Paris, only proved that my instincts were correct. On one of these occasions, during her Croissant Smackdown (a tasting of Paris’ best buttery delicacies), Amy mentioned that she was just awarded a book deal on a project she had been working on. Sweet! I couldn’t wait to read her memoir, as only a true New Yorker in Paris could tell it.

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) is here! In bookstores, on amazon.com and in my personal prized book collection. February 1st Amy Thomas became a published author, not only in the New York Times, but in the world. How proud I am of mon amie!

Needless to say, I inhaled the book, much like I would a box of macarons. Pierre Hermé or Laduree. It felt as though Amy were telling me her story in person, over a chocolat chaud. From nesting in her ‘tree house’ near rue Montorgueil to her many adventures sampling the best of Paris’ pâtisseries, via vélib’ bien sûr, to her endless attempts at finding her way into the core of a fascinating (and often challenging) city and the mind of its people. The tales are both sweet and savory, and worthy of being told, in a language and manner uniquely Amy. A lot of English, a bit of French, and all heart.

Though her experiences of Paris and New York, and often finding herself torn between the two (something I well understand) Amy has proven that you need not choose pleasure or success, beauty or energy, the macaron or the cupcake. You can indeed have it all, or at least taste it all, on either side of the Atlantic. Now then, where to find the best cupcake in Paris and macaron in New York? I believe the answer lies somewhere between chapters two and five…

If you are a fellow sweet freak, or simply adore Paris (who doesn’t?), you too will savor the pages of Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate).

You can also follow Amy via facebook, twitter and on her blogs God, I Love Paris and Sweet Freak.

 

art of the macaron

As the debate continues between which side of Paris reigns supreme, rive droite or rive gauche, so too does the question of ‘who makes the best macaron?’. The Paris pâtissier preference most often between the two macaron greats: Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Who do I prefer? That is a matter of macaron, as each chef certainly does excel in particular flavors. I had quickly become a macaron fanatic upon moving to Paris and upon several dozen tastings, had accepted to adore (and indulge) in both. What I was really after was how exactly do you make these tiny tastes of heaven?

And so last Saturday my curiosity in the art of the macaron was satisfied. I signed up for a class at the reputable cooking school La Cuisine Pariset voilà! There I was ready to take on the challenge, filled with eager bakers (including my sweet confidant Delphine) and our pastry chef, trained with none other than Pierre Hermé himself.

With nary a moment to admire the glorious view of the Seine, we split into teams and got right to work. Sifting, measuring, mixing, boiling… Once in a while I did peek outside reminded that I was indeed in the heart of Paris learning to make the city’s most prized delicacy.

Our next step, and perhaps my favorite of all once I learned the technique, was actually making the perfectly round, just the right size, macaron shells. Not as easy as it looks!

Once the shells were formed and baked to perfection, each one was paired with it’s matching half.

From that point on it was all about filling our candy colored shells. The filling which I could have easily inhaled by the spoonful. We had made two very distinct and rich flavors, white chocolate mixed with a touch of espelette, a type of French chili pepper, and a classic praline. Délicieux!

And there they were. Our macaron masterpieces! Ready to be cooled and savoured, ideally the following day. I felt accomplished and though no easy task, I was even eager to try this at home. But until then, I will never again question the price of pleasure when it comes to the macaron.

La Cuisine Paris offers year-round macaron classes in both English and French as well as many other sweet and savory culinary adventures. I’m already looking forward to the next one…

If you live in Paris (or will be in town on February 10th) enter to win a free macaron class! Winners selected on January 31st. Bonne chance!

foreign treasures

This weekend I went hunting. This time not for treasures at the Louvre but for antiques. Specifically a danish modern shelf unit to fit a television. (Yes, after over 2 years television-less we are ready. Mostly as a tool to aid in French of course, and the occasional Anglo film.) The marché aux Puces had made it’s biannual appearance on Rue de Bretagne and I gave in to temptation. How could I not, as it was just a few blocks away. So the adventures in the history of ‘other people’s treasures’ began.

In the end, did I find what I was looking for? No. But I did find what I wasn’t looking for. Hard to resist, especially when it’s a foreign treasure. I did return home content, but will be sure to peruse the next antiques market when it returns in May. Or perhaps find another before then…

If you are on your own French treasure hunt, here’s a list of antique markets in and around Paris.

nuit blanche 2011

A white night following a bright blue Indian summer day. The ideal mood and climate for Paris’ annual Nuit Blanche, the one night of the year that the city ceases to sleep. One of my favorites, allowing those brave enough, to explore museums and churches in the early morning hours. Our adventures took place in the Marais, beginnning with a video installation of The Leopard at the magestic Hotel de Ville. Incidentally, the first book my Italian ever gave me.

From there we sought the shortest lines with the most engaging exhibitions. Not an easy task. We found Moby Dick at the Museum of Hunting & Nature, complete with a backdrop of whale sounds.

Seeking a moment of respite from the growing crowds, we entered the Église Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux, only to be enchanted by an array of musicians in “Des voix dans la Nuit!” From pianists performing Chopin to a chorus singing Ave Maria, to a dramatic organist... certainly the longest (and the latest) I have ever sat in a church!

By now it was nearly 1am and we made our way to the grand exhibition Purple Rain. The line was wrapped well around the block, and so we passed by, trying to catch a glimpse of this incredible purple rain… Would it have been worth the wait? Perhaps.

Not yet ready to return home, we caroused the early morning streets in search of a last hurrah. What we found was an impressive structure at the Bibliothèque.

Composed solely of cement blocks held up by their arrangement.

Finally, time to end this white night and before it bacame another bright blue day.

With a last stop in Heaven at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.

lights of broadway

Tonight I experienced the lights of Broadway. High up in the sky over the Eiffel Tower. Fireworks synchronized to famous show tunes such as ‘Memory’, ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, and of course ‘New York, New York’. I am not a huge Broadway fan, but within these spectacular 30 minutes, I felt nostalgic. And utterly in awe. Amidst the 1 million spectators, I had a New York moment, in Paris.

 

 

history vs modernity

While the Italians were in town we took them to Versailles. Just in case they weren’t thoroughly impressed from day one in Paris.

As excited as they were to visit this 17th Century Château, I was equally excited to view the current Murakami exhibit, a source of controversy since its inception in mid-September. I was determined to find all 22 works by Takashi Murakami, including the 11 created specifically for the show, and to discover what all the hype was about. All this while enjoying the splendor of Versailles, which I had previously visited as a student, back in the days when art was confined to museums and galleries.

My first impression was disdain as I felt too distracted by the art to pay much attention to the grandeur of the architecture. That quickly turned to child-like curiosity, as I entered each ornately decorated room, eager to discover which brightly-coloured creatures lurked behind the corner.

It was the unique contrast in the Baroque setting and the art that held my interest.

During this tour, I wondered to myself what exactly was the motivation for France to curate such a show? Setting the precedent with Jeff Koons’ exhibit in 2008, were they attempting to position themselves as provocateurs in the art world? Or perhaps this is all a political ploy to strengthen relations between France and Japan. Whatever the reason, I was throughly entertained and enjoyed it more than not. The Italians thought it amusing but lacked my enthusiasm. The French tourists, upon over-hearing several conversations, were deeply dismayed. (Right-wingers no doubt.)

The final room held no 17th Century distractions, merely smiley flowers to lighten the mood.

For those confused about how modernity can find a home within the walls of history (myself included), Curator Laurent Le Bon offers a little clarity, “The unique experience seeks above all to spark a reflection of the contemporary nature of our monuments and indispensable need to create out own era.”

Still confused? In this video which takes you on a tour of the exhibition, Murakami explains his reasoning behind working so diligently to create his manga universe at Versailles. What I found interesting is how he defines space in France versus Japan, two very disparate cultures. “In France you have this tradition to conquer and manage space and to represent it in three dimensions. In Japan, there is this tradition to flatten out reality to take a real three dimensional space and transform it into two dimensions.”  Another interesting note, Murakami considers his work somewhat like origami which can be manipulated in various ways. I would have to agree.

The grand finale in the exhibition is the Oval Buddha in the garden. Very grand and very gold. If you have not yet experienced the controversy, the show is up until December 12, 2010. Well worth it!

Still, I am left to wonder, should modern art find a home in history?

time to celebrate!

Nearly 700 kilometers, a dozen fresh fish, 5 spectacular sunsets, 3 shades lighter in mind, (and 2 shades darker in body) and many adventures later, I am back in Paris. For those keeping track. I have a lot of thoughts to share about these recent days in Corsica, and many images which even more accurately capture the experience. Those stories soon to come!

Since my return to ‘real life in Paris’ I’ve learned a lot about the French art of celebration having recently attended a friend’s ‘blink and it’s over’ wedding at the Mairie followed by not the same friend’s baby-shower in which the greatest surprise for the mommy-to-be was a police-officer turned stripper. Little did I know how the French like to celebrate! Conservative? Never!

And now it’s time to join the festivities about to begin, commemorating the start of the French Republic. My first Bastille Day in Paris, after many spent in NYC as a Francophile. I wonder if the rumors are true about those firemen at Les Bal des Pompiers…

Queen for a day

My favorite French tradition thus far is the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6th, the day when the 3 kings visited the baby Jesus. To commemorate this day, we ate a Galette des Rois, a delicate puff-pastry cake filled with a rich frangipane filling, delicious!! As part of French tradition, a small figurine is hidden in the cake and he or she who finds “la fève” in their slice becomes king or queen for a day. As luck would have it, I almost bit into a tiny ceramic rat in my first slice (not certain of the symbolism of what we consider a rodent in the USA, an insignificant detail perhaps?). I am the Queen! Rather than entertain ourselves with the traditional dance which we have yet to learn, we made a bet in which I would indeed be treated most royally. Needless to say, we have been indulging in this “king cake” every day since. Time now to take off the crown.

swimming in a sea of French…

Some days I experience what I call a ‘French block’. My mind cannot, or more accurately, does not want to think, speak nor understand anything French. It feels too much like starting over, like so many years ago when I moved to NYC and knew but one soul amidst a sea of strangers. I was young and impressionable then, and now? Still rather young and slightly less impressionable, but filled with the same eagerness to know and see and learn and meet. But here in Paris it’s much different. Most of all due to my poor comprehension of the French language and certain cultural aspects I have not yet decided whether suit me (as if I had a choice). Within this particular sea, the faces don’t smile as easily when you glance in their direction, and when looking lost or desperate, rarely will a local offer a gesture of compassion. It is those who have shared this experience, those with empathy (most often possessing a foreign passport), that help me to understand that it is in fact time and a rather liberal amount of humility that will ease this transition and allow the culture to envelop me.

I might add that a good glass of Saint Emilion in the late afternoon sun at the local bistro, can surely serve as a lifeboat.