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.

Courchevel 1850

Last week I discovered the most chic winter destination in France. Courchevel is a ski resort in the French Alps. Part of Les Trois Vallées, it’s the largest in the world. Courchevel alone is made of up of three levels, the highest being 1850 meters up in the mountains. This was where we were headed. Having only skied in the U.S. and Italy, I was looking forward to the adventure.

Just over three hours after leaving Paris I arrived to hotel Le Strato, set high up in the mountains. This five-star alpine hideaway revealed stunning views of the Alps, with skiers passing by on the paths just outside my window. I was in snow-capped heaven! I breathed in the fresh mountain air as I settled into my luxurious room.

This family run hotel is one-of-a-kind. Opened in 2009 by “a young lady of over 80,” it was the realization of a dream for Jeannine Boix-Vives. It’s named for the Strato skis that had contributed so much to the Rossignol brand’s fame, a company once owned by Jeannine and her family. As she so wisely states “dreaming alone will not determine your destiny.” Every detail in the 25 suites is taken into consideration, from the elegant modern decor to the unique comforts (catching up on the news from the bathtub, for one). The unrivaled spa uses Sothys products and features two saunas, a steam-room, jacuzzi, gym and indoor pool. (My signature massage was heavenly!) I was thrilled too, to take an invigorating yoga class, adding to the bliss I already felt.

Symbolic of the three generations running Le Strato, family paintings hang in the library, dining room and along the corridors, complimented by wooden sculptures and artwork collected from around the world.

What makes Le Strato even more of a haute destination is its Michelin-starred gastronomy.  Restaurant Baumanière 1850 is run by Jean-André Charial (owner of the famous Michelin 2-star restaurant l’Oustau de Baumanière in Baux-de-Provence). With executive chef Lowell Mesnier working closely with chef Glenn Viel and Jean-André Charial, the food alone is worth the trip. Having already tasted Glenn’s cuisine on my visit to Baumanière, I knew I would dine like a queen. Every evening I looked forward to the gourmet feast following a cocktail at the cozy bar, live music filling the space. Breakfast in the same regal setting was an introduction into local tastes.

Ready to discover the mountains, I headed to the ski room for my gear, booked a teacher to guide me through the slopes and headed down the hill directly from the hotel. With many blue pistes to choose from, as well as a handful of red for those more advanced, I felt completely at ease. This was paradise!

Guided by the sun, we skied the smooth snow all the way down to the village and took the chair lift back up, with views of Mont Blanc in the distance. It took a few years, but finally I was feeling that ski high unique to those dedicated to the sport. I was elated and couldn’t wait to return with my expert Italian skier!

I even encountered art in the mountains during my first ever racket walk, a healthy alternative to skiing. “Doggy John” by painter and sculptor Julien Marinetti stands 175 cm at 2238 meters high.

Before the return to Paris I took a petit pause on the terrace, filled with gratitude at having experienced this tasteful family chalet that honored one woman’s life, while providing happiness to so many others.

Weekend in the 8th

I’m of the opinion that in order to truly appreciate where you live, and not take it for granted or let it wear you down (yes, even Paris) you must once in a while play tourist.  So every year I plan a local weekend escape for my Italian and I. This year it was across town to Hôtel Daniel in the 8th arrondissement. This Relais & Châteaux haven hidden just behind the Champs-Élysées and steps away from rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoréis a four-star gem. We were looking forward to moving in!

Upon entering I felt as though I had been invited to a private home. The vibrant living room was filled with travel artifacts collected by the hotel’s owners during their journeys around the world, which I would soon discover ornamented all 26 of the unique rooms and suites. The decor revealed a unique combination of Toile de Jouy materials with chinoiserie-style motifs. Even the basket for my tea kettle looked like an artifact from the Silk Road.

Once my handsome date arrived we settled into our room on the top floor, overlooking the Parisian rooftops. We both favored the cozy loveseat with a view and knew that would be where we’d sunbathe while reading the morning paper.

On Friday night we happily caroused the quartier, feeling like we were indeed visiting from faraway. At the hotel’s recommendation we dined at 110 de Taillevent, where 110 wines are available by the glass. Impressive! It was a perfect meal on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a nice change from our usual right bank eateries. For breakfast we opted not to part with the views, ordered room service and dined with the sun.

That day we went window shopping on the Champs-Élysées and explored the annual Christmas Market, vin chaud in hand. My Italian went running in new territory and I stopped by neighboring Gagosian Gallery, one of my favorites for stellar art exhibits. After tea time at our new home, we headed out once more for dinner, with no clear plan in mind, only to get lost in our new neighborhood.

Morocco in Paris

These days as Paris temperatures decrease and the sun sets early, I’ve taken to hiding out in hammams as often as possible. All in the name of research of course, as I seek to discover the best hammans in Paris for a feature in Bonjour Paris. What have I found thus far? A little taste of Morocco.

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Hidden behind a door and down a courtyard on bustling rue Montorgueil in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement, sits a portal into Morocco. There is no outward sign of its presence, and rightly so. For decades, Aux Bains Montorgueil was a hammam designed exclusively for Moroccan royalty. It was not until 2004 that this clandestine hammam and spa opened to the public. It was discovered solely through word of mouth until their recent creation of a website.

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Entering Aux Bains Montorgueil you have the sensation of arriving to a hammam in the heart of Marrakesh. Warmly welcomed by Moroccan women Souad and Wafa with traditional music playing in the background, I was led downstairs to begin this centuries old cleansing ritual. The actual hammam is filled with heavenly scents of eucalyptus and orange blossom. After detoxing in the luxurious heat, Souad lathered me with homemade green clay in preparation for the scrubbing, or gommage. Followed by a thorough cleansing and a return to the hammam, my facial began. My exfoliation was a concoction of cinnamon, honey and sugar, followed by a sesame and honey mask, both all natural and made by Souad and Wafa. Curious if these sweet mixtures were edible, I was told that often in Morocco only natural foods are used to cleanse the skin. (Admittedly, I did taste my mask and it was delicious!) Feeling completely relaxed, I was led upstairs to the massage room where fleur d’oranger, orange blossom, was gently rubbed into my rejuvenated skin. I ended my Moroccan experience in the relaxation room with a glass of mint tea. Now I understood why this was such a well kept secret for so long.

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Discover Aux Bains Montorgeuil for yourself at 55 rue Montorgeuil from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 9pm.

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!

 

Escape to Chantilly

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It rarely becomes extremely hot in Paris. But when it does, little relief can be found. Last weekend we experienced such a heatwave, called a canicule. That was reason enough to leave the heat and flee to the countryside. But who needs a reason. So we jumped on the train and in 30 minutes arrived to Chantilly. We first visited the château with my mom a few years ago, and knew one day we’d return. Now was as perfect a time as any. After a quick lunch stop we headed directly for our luxurious haven in the shade, Auberge du Jeu de Paume.

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This stunning five-star Relais & Chateaux property sits overlooking the majestic Château de Chantilly, bringing new meaning to the term ‘room with a view’. Our suite overlooked the English gardens. Immediately the late summer heat faded into the distance as I relaxed to the calming sounds of the fountains down below, and watched as the swan made her laps in the pond. A perfect weekend getaway.

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This four-year old hotel’s spacious rooms are fashioned with classic toile de Jouy fabrics and handcrafted woodwork, no details spared. The Hermès bath products in the marble bathrooms were a treat. Not to mention the decadence of the plush bed! We both slept very soundly, with the help of a little air-conditioning.

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After a morning of yoga on the terrace and a visit to the full-service spa and fitness room, we splurged on breakfast on our terrace. Heavenly! Not a soul in sight aside from an occasional triathlete running by in the gardens. Little did we know, it was the weekend of the Castle Triathlon Series. What a gorgeous setting! It almost inspired me to join for next year. (I’ll stick to yoga!)

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For dinner we opted for Le Jardin d’Hiver, the chic bistro featuring seasonal fare created by Arnaud Faye, 2* Michelin Chef at La Table du Connétable, their more elegant and gourmet dining option. What a decadent feast! We ended the night with a glass of wine on our terrace, beneath a starry sky. Ah, romance…

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What’s a trip to Chantilly without a visit to the château, a five minute walk from the hotel, and a stop for the very thing the town is known for, aside from lace that is. The BEST and original Chantilly cream is found at Le Hameau on the grounds of the château. (I could write an entire blog post about it, heaven on a plate!)

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The rest of our afternoon was spent watching the triathlon and cheering them on, picnicking in the garden, and admiring the history surrounding us.

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Before returning to Paris we made one final stop to the Grandes Écuries for a horse show and visit to the museum. Also known as the Living Museum of the Horse, here can be found the largest stables in Europe. It was constructed in the 18th century as an actual horses’ palace, how fancy! Growing up horseback riding and with a love for these gentle creatures, this was quite a highlight for me. I would gladly have galloped back to Paris.

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Paris by Thierry Marx

A morning discovering favorite local haunts of one of Paris’ star chefs and bakers? Mais oui! Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of doing exactly that, with two star Michelin chef Thierry Marx. Our day began at his new bakery and cafe in the 8th arrondissement, La Boulangerie. After tasting a few of Marx’ many sweet specialties, I had a tour of the kitchen where I met the crew and watched them at work, learning a few tricks along the way.

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I then hopped into my vintage Citroën 2CV and my beret clad driver navigated his way to our next stop Cafés Verlet, where Marx often drinks (and buys) his coffee. It was there where I tasted various intoxicating brews, both hot and cold, and learned exactly how specialized this family business, originating in the 20th century, really is. It was in 1965 that grandson Pierre Verlet began roasting coffees from all over the world. I even caught a glimpse of his son’s roasting method in their nearby coffee mill.

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The next stop was a hidden gallery in Saint-Germain, another of Marx’ favorite haunts. Pause for a little visual stimulation. The last discovery before lunch was gastronomic bouquiniste Alain Suchet, his bookstand on display along the banks of the Seine. It is here where Thierry Marx acquires vintage cookbooks to add to his collection. With so many to choose from, I could have spent all afternoon browsing!

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For lunch I dined haute couture style at the Mandarin Oriental’s Sur Measure. It is here at Thierry Marx’ two Michelin star restaurant, where he “blends the technical and emotional aspects of cooking with sight, sound and taste.” What an experience, from the amuse bouche to the dessert. Emotional to say the least!

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To find out more about Thierry Marx’ favorite spots to shop, dine and explore in the French capital, pick up a copy of Paris Marx Saveurs Capitale (in French). If you’re planning a trip to Paris, you can experience ‘Paris by Marx’ with a stay at the Mandarin Oriental. Find out more in my feature in France Today.

Coquillade Village

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Arriving to Coquillade Village feels like arriving to a majestic Tuscan villa, welcomed by cypress trees, only this 100 acre Relais & Châteaux property is located in the heart of the Luberon in Provence, with views of the Vaucluse Mountains and Mont Ventoux. It’s location was historically the site for migrating birds, including the crested lark (Couquihado in Provençal), hence the name. Surrounded by vineyards and fields of lavender, this complex of 63 rooms and suites dates back to the 11th century, with most of it augmented and restored in recent years. Very eagerly we settled into our new home, ready to take in the views and its many luxuries.

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It was hard to leave our Luxury Suite as we relaxed on the terrace, tasting the local rosé grown in their 89 acres of vineyards. I made a mental note to take a tour and arrange a tasting session during our stay. Back to the room… did I mention we had our own jacuzzi and sauna? More reason not to leave. No attention to detail or comfort was spared! While my Italian went for a run through the vines, I made sure to visit the Coquillade SPA, 1500m2 of serenity for both mind and body, created in 2015. It was hard to leave the eucalyptus hammam! But I was eager to explore the premises and discover exactly what lay within the walls of this “village”.

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What I discovered were charming Provençal villas discreetly scattered throughout the property, all revealing private rooms with terraces. There were three restaurants on the premises, Gourmet run by two Gault & Millau head chefs, Ristorante, an Italian establishment, and Bistro with a Mediterranean inspired menu. The latter of these is where we opted to dine al fresco, our backdrop a pastel colored sunset beyond the vineyards. Chef Christophe Renaud certainly left an impression, not to mention pastry Chef René Solnon with his masterful desserts. I’ve always had a weakness for sweets.

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Following a visit to nearby Roussillon (more on that later), we spent a sunny afternoon lounging by one of the two heated swimming pools. I envisioned a game of tennis or perhaps the beloved French game of pétanque, but time was limited. We eagerly visited the “BMC Cycling Center” with ambitious goals to ride to a neighboring town, I planned to test out an electric bike, but we chose instead to relax within the charm of Coquillade, followed by a driving tour. We were on holiday after all.

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It was certainly hard to bid farewell to Coquillade Village with its friendly staff and luxurious amenities. But we were in the Luberon after all and had come to explore. Where to next? Stay tuned…

 

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.

PARIS PICKS : 4-star boutique hotels

One of the questions I’m most often asked is “Where to stay in the City of Lights?” My answer often includes a boutique hotel in the rive droite, my side of town. Even though I live in a charming Parisian apartment in the North Marais, I have an affinity for hotels designed for sophisticated travelers with style and comfort in mind. In the last few years I’ve experienced a few of these luxurious gems, first hand. Here are my top picks.

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Under the design direction of Dorothée Meilichzon, Hotel Bachaumont re-opened in September 2015. Steps away from the pedestrianized market street rue Montorgueil, this art-deco hotel composed of 49 rooms and complete with an uber trendy bar and restaurant, is one of Paris’ latest hotspots. Read all about my experience in Bonjour Paris. (Photo by Paul Bowyer)

Hotel Bachaumont // 18 rue Bachaumont 75002 // + 33 (0) 1 81 66 47 00

Hotel Fabric

A hotel set in a former textile factory? Welcome to Hôtel Fabric. This designers’ haven is located in the Oberkampf neighborhood, steps away from a slew of trendy eateries. Thirty-three rooms are equally stylish and spacious, featuring industrial decor combined with vivid prints by luxury design house Pierre Frey. Here’s my complete review in France Today.

Hôtel Fabric // 31 Rue de la Folie Méricourt 75011 // +33 (0)1 43 57 27 00

Terrass Hotel

Eiffel tower views, anyone? Head to the historic artists’ quartier of Montmartre for both comfort and a vista. From the 7th floor bar and restaurant of Terrass’’ Hotel, the panoramic views will take your breath away! Refurbished and re-opened in June 2015, find refuge in the hotels 85 contemporary rooms and 7 suites, some with private balconies. Read more in my feature in Bonjour Paris.

Terrass’’ Hotel // 12-14 rue Joseph de Maistre 75018 // +33 (0)1 46 06 72 85

Hotel Providence 4

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In the trendy Strasbourg Saint-Denis neighborhood, Hôtel Providence takes center stage. This recently opened circa-1854 hotel contains 18 rooms and 3 suites, each exhibiting vintage furnishings, walls clad in velvet prints, and well stocked bars. While I haven’t yet stayed overnight in this chic setting which attracts quite an A-list crowd, I have admired the design of the rooms and the cozy bar and restaurant, perfect for a night cap.

Hôtel Providence // 90 rue René Boulanger 75010 // +33 (0)1 46 34 34 04

high tea time

As the days turn shorter and winter begins to make its presence known, I turn towards the sweet side of life in Paris. Having sipped chai in nearly all of the five star tea salons, each one is an experience in itself. France does excel in its pastries after all, and having a sweet tooth, I’ll try any sugary concoction whipped up by a respected pâtissier. My most recent experience in l’heure du goûter, as the French call snack time, was by the skillful hand of Pastry Chef Cédric Grolet at Le Meurice, with world renowned Alain Ducasse at the helm.

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Joined by two gourmand friends, we sat in the elegant restaurant Le Dalí, and started our high tea with a glass of bubbly, French style. What I immediately noticed were Christophe Robin’s Little Indulgences, warm finger sandwiches prepared to order. How divine! And I hadn’t even brought my attention to the sweet portion yet.

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The trays were stacked high with homemade sweets and scones with cream, each more delicious than the next.

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As an unexpected bonus, the most delicious madeleines were served to us, fresh out of the oven. But what took the cake was the Hazelnut, a rich and chocolaty dessert that must be tasted to be truly understood.

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The afternoon was long and luxurious! Leah Walker, fellow traveler, donned her new rive droite tote in high style. Along with writer Mary Winston Nicklin, we indulged in a tea time to remember. Until next time, ladies!

Melenos Lindos

We arrived to Rhodes and immediately fell under the spell of its majestic medieval city, the largest walled city in Europe. We explored the tangle of roads which led to the Jewish Quarter and paid a visit to the impressive Archaeological Museum. But our main destination was the town of Lindos, an hour by bus and a world of difference.

IMG_0884Rising over the traditional white homes of Lindos sits an acropolis dating back to the 10th century BC. As we ventured up the hill, we arrived to our home, Melenos Lindos, what appeared to be a village within a village; a world of its own that I was eager to discover.

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the roaring twenties

Back from adventures in Turkey and Greece to a Paris filled with life. (More on the travels later.) La rentrée brings with it a city full of openings and events. I had the privilege to attend an evening of cocktails and entertainment at Le Bar du Bristol, one of the chicest addresses in Paris. Le Bristol Paris is celebrating 90 years, having opened in 1925, in the midst of the roaring twenties. Who better to join me than my fashionable mom who’s now in town. Here’s a taste of what the roaring twenties looks like…

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FullSizeRender(2) copyFullSizeRender_4FullSizeRender_3 It was certainly a night to remember! Find my full story on Bonjour Paris.

adventures in Essaouira

On July 29th I celebrated my birthday. In true leo fashion, I toasted grandly with friends in Paris. Meanwhile, my Italian, forever the romantic, planned another surprise getaway. The last three were in Italy, but this one, he hinted, was to foreign landscapes I had often dreamt of. I arrived to the airport unaware of where I would be spending the next four days. Tears of joy collected in my eyes as I saw the boarding sign: Essaouira, Morocco! In just over three hours we landed and soon after arrived to gorgeous views from our riad.

IMG_7474That evening I experienced my first Moroccan sunset. I was already enamored.

IMG_7587The following day we explored the Medina of this mid-eighteenth century fortified city.

IMG_8147I learned that the prominent blue covering many of the doors and windows were remnants from a Jewish past, and also the symbolic color of a port city.

IMG_7478 IMG_7484IMG_8004I was interested in learning about the local products of the artisans, and even met a few.

IMG_8012The port of Essaouira, known for it’s myriad of blue boats and hundreds of local fisherman, was the most important trading port between Europe, Africa and the Americas from it’s foundation in 1770 until the first half of the nineteenth century.

IMG_7739 IMG_7772 Having first ridden a camel in the desserts of Rajasthan during my travels in India, I thought what better way to discover the Moroccan landscape, with it’s miles of sandy beaches.

IMG_7940With the winds in full force, we boarded these gentle dromedary and began our tour.

IMG_8414Our guide stopped to show us the ruins of an ancient Sultan palace from the 18th century.

IMG_7954We continued until we reached the town of Diabat, where Jimi Hendrix’ legacy lives on.

IMG_7957The last day I experienced a local hammam, and we spent the afternoon in the Medina, a place I had grown to love for it’s vibrancy. Many tagines later, it was time to return to Paris.

IMG_8158But not before one last sunset, ending a magical adventure in Morocco.

night at the library

Once upon a time, in what now feels like another lifetime, I worked on Madison Avenue. Just down the street from my office sat the Library Hotel, and I would often pass it during my lunch break, wondering what lay beyond it’s scholarly doors, was there really a library? On this trip to New York, being an avid reader, I booked a room and planned to find out.

IMG_2479Stepping into the hotel feels like entering a library, books and card catalogs lining the walls.

IMG_2435_2What I soon discovered was that the concept of the Library Hotel is inspired by the Dewey Decimal system. As per this famous method of classification (developed by Melvil Dewey in the US in 1876) each of the 10 guestroom floors is dedicated to one of the 10 categories of the Dewey Decimal System. In turn, each of the 60 rooms are filled with books and art concerning their unique topic. With over 6,000 books, there is plenty to read!

IMG_2481 3The theme of our room was mysteries, how fitting for a mysterious night in Manhattan!

IMG_2488_2With an impressive view of the New York Public Library, I truly felt surrounded by literature.

IMG_2425Venturing outside, the city lights shone brightly, with regal Grand Central in the distance.

IMG_2476_2During the complimentary buffet breakfast we met fellow travelers from around the world.

IMG_2430_2Most enchanting of all are the views from the Writer’s Den and Poetry Garden on the 14th floor rooftop. By night it becomes Bookmarks Lounge, serving literary inspired cocktails.

IMG_2549Where better to read the New York Times or a good book, over a cup of coffee and a view.

IMG_2500_2I can’t wait to return to the Library Hotel, a literary haven in the heart of New York City. Next time the romance room?

art of the hammam

On my recent trip to Istanbul, my friend and I decided to indulge in the Turkish bath culture, the hammam. In the tradition of physical and spiritual purification, the body is cleansed and purified from toxins, blood circulation increases and the immune system is stimulated. I had tried a few hammams in my day, but this one, the Ayasofya built in 1556, was special.IMG_6259Historically, hammams were social centers where special occasions were often celebrated.

IMG_6238Most hammams had spiritual components, and in many cases, washing was an essential part of worship. Through religious influence, hammams became a part of everyday life.

IMG_6240The sicaklik (also known as the hararet, caldarium or hot room) is a large marble-tiled room with a Göbek tasi (marble slab called a belly or navel stone). Here the soaping takes place.

IMG_6244I lay on the heated surface post scrubbing, and experienced my first bubble massage.

IMG_6254We had the hammam to ourselves, and I could have spent hours dreaming beneath the ancient starry ceiling, intoxicated by the warmth of the marble and the heavenly massage.

IMG_6255Alas, it was time to go as I was abruptly woken from the dream. Next stop, Grand Bazaar.

New York from above

As much as I love New York from afar, there’s something uniquely magical about the city from above, as it appears to rise forever into the sky, and you rise with it. During these days of meetings and mingling with friends, I tried to catch a glimpse of day turning into night from as many roof decks as possible. As I discover others, I have a few that shall always remain my favorites.

The Peninsula Hotel sun terrace sits on the 21st and 22nd floors with a view of the regal St Regis.

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Here I spent a humid New York day high above the bustle of the city, swimming and lounging in the sun, following a dynamic yoga class. Paradise found in midtown!

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Soho House New York is not only a chic members only address, but the place to be seen. A haven for creatives, the perfect spot to meet a work friend and catch up on the goings on of the NYC ad scene.

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A60 bar located on the 13th floor of 60 Thompson has stunning sunset views to compliment your cocktail. Where better to meet with a girlfriend who just flew in from LA?

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I may never have my fill of looking at New York’s skyline from afar or from above. Until next time…

 

 

high tea for two

One reason I love when my mom comes to Paris to visit is that I get to spoil her. I spend months in preparation, planning all sorts of events, exhibitions, eating experiences, etc. This year I thought I’d surprise her with a mother/daughter high tea. Where better than at the Four Seasons George V?

IMG_1501Upon entering this ethereal setting, we were taken with Jeff Leatham’s stunning floral compositions.

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My mom and I were in our element, both of us favoring sweet over savory.

IMG_1454We began our indulgent afternoon with one of Lucien Gautier’s fruitful masterpieces.

IMG_1462Is there anything better than French pastries with champagne to compliment?

IMG_1480How happy I was to spend such a memorable afternoon with my mom, and in such sweet splendor!

 

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.

urban escape

I am a great fan of weekend escapes, a tranquil setting in which to unwind and simply lose track of time. Though not always possible or so easy to get away. Luckily, I discovered such a place in the heart of Paris, what I can accurately describe as an urban escape, L’échappée.

Behind this door exists a hidden universe of wellness, for mind, body and soul.

First stop, the spa. Upon entering the hammam, the cold, wintry world outside ceased to exist. The dipping pool invited me in to it’s tepid waters and there I remained for countless time, the Paris sky high above, my thoughts floating far beyond it. Experiencing the full spa treatment, I was next summoned to an adjoining room for le gommage, the ritual of cleansing and exfoliating the skin. I was left feeling lighter and rehydrated. Perfect time to escape into the steam room. The next step is my favorite of all, le massage. I chose the Californian technique for utmost relaxation. In a word, bliss. Where am I again? I left this urban paradise hours later in a state of zen and floated home.

Above the spa sits the restaurant. Both industrial chic and intimate, feeling very much comme à la maison. I’ve had the occasion of lunching here several times but it is the weekend brunch that most satisfies my palate. A decadent and plentiful spread of sweet and savory. The best Paris brunch I have discovered to date, and as a New York brunch aficionado that says a lot!

I am already looking forward to my next visit to the spa, the restaurant, or perhaps both, should I need a proper escape. Anyone care to join me?