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…

 

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.

adventures in the loire

Last weekend we hit the road, destination Loire Valley. This region of France is one of our favorites to explore, both for its proximity to Paris and its regal history. On the way to Orleans via high speed train we reminisced our trips in the Loire, our first adventure being by bike to Château de Blois and the Château de Chambord. Our second trip found us at Château d’Amboise and Château du Clos Lucé. We’ve since been back to visit friends at their family home Château du Petit Thouars. This time we were heading to another friend’s birthday celebrations, with a few visits along the way, including a château or two, but first, home in a pigeon house.

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We arrived to Le Colombier, once a pigeon house from the 18th century, and settled in to our romantic abode.

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A quick drive from our home in Clery-Saint-Andre we discovered the medieval village of Beaugency. I was immediately charmed by the vines and flowers around every corner as we lost ourselves in the tangle of streets.

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Our next stop was Meung-sur-Loire. I was less impressed with this village but the château was worth a visit.

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Château Meung-sur-Loire, once the prestigious residence of the bishops of Orleans, welcomed great names in French history including Kings François I and Louis XI. It also served as a prison for poet François Villon.

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Our last stop was to a castle that has now become my favorite of them all, Château de Chenonceau…

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.

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