Story of a Sweater

Following my day and night discovering the secrets of Mont Saint-Michel with Centre des monuments nationaux, we headed to nearby factory Saint-James, one of France’s oldest and most famous brands which continues to manufacture locally. Being a designer myself, I was interested in discovering the history and makings of this label, located in Saint-James, a commune in Lower Normandy, 20 kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel. This is the brand that made nautical stripes famous, and I was about to find out how it all began.

How and when was Saint-James born? Around 1850, the Legallais family started to spin and dye locally produced wool. They resold this wool to the haberdasheries of Brittany and Normandy, later as woolen shirts which turned into the now famous fisherman’s sweater.

In 1950, the company changed hands and new owner Julien Bonte began manufacturing cardigans and sweaters, including the famous “Real Breton Fisherman’s Sweater” knit in pure wool. This became “the seafarers’ second skin”. Along with his son and much determination, Julien grew the company, renaming it “Tricots Saint-James” in 1970.

Julien’s son Bernard grew the company further in 1977 by building a new plant with an 1,800 square meter workshop and 300 square meters of office space. Tricots Saint-James also expanded its product range to include sea-themed seasonal attire for women. They were known across France as the knitwear leader, including a 100% cotton collection.

In 1989 Saint-James celebrated its 60-year anniversary as well as 100 years of Léon Legallais. In commemoration, they modernized their logo and knit the biggest sweater in the world, 8 meters high, and 14 meters from one sleeve to the other. Impressive! In 2001 the company further expanded and shirts, jackets and trousers were added to its wares.

In 2005, Tricots Saint-James received the trophy for “Ethics and Governance” following a company staff buyout. In the words of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, “The Company was chosen to recognize the good governance represented by Mr. Bernard Bonte (President until December 5, 1990) transferring power and capital to the employees, as well as the significant development of the company in France and abroad. The company’s takeover project of 1990 was declared a success for both its development and staff growth.”

What I noticed while touring the factory was the meticulous attention to detail. Every employee trains for over a year, taking pride in their work as each piece is carefully crafted by hand. Observing the process from weaving the wool or cotton to preparing the final product for shipment was fascinating. It’s no wonder Saint-James has such a stellar reputation!

These days Saint-James sweaters, shirts, scarves and dresses are available not only in Mont Saint-Michel, but in Nice, Paris, Saint-Malo, Strasbourg and Lyon, as well as  around the globe. Their timeless stripes and style continue to dress the world! What’s more, when you buy one of these shirts, you’re supporting the cloister restoration project! “The Tricots Saint James company is also associated with this major national heritage project with an exceptional and unique product-sharing operation. From 15 April to 15 October 2017, the “Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey” striped jerseys are on sale in the Saint James distribution network in France and abroad (Korea, USA and Japan), and in 3 bookshop-boutiques of the network (at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, the Alignments of Carnac and the Towers of La Rochelle). For every striped jersey sold at the price of €45, Saint James pledges to donate €2.50 to the Centre des monuments nationaux for the cloister restoration project.”

Mont Saint-Michel by night

I knew I would return to Mont Saint-Michel, a marvel of Norman Gothic architecture, after spending an incredible day last February exploring France’s first World Heritage site, this time to enjoy the sunset. With the ease of a new Intercités train to Villedieu-les-Poêles connecting to a bus directly to Mont Saint-Michel, I joined the National Monuments Center and jumped aboard.

We arrived to a rainy and gray abbey, quite a contrast to the sunny day I experienced on my last visit, but equally as enchanting.

After a private tour of the abbey, fellow bloggers and I had the privilege of meeting Philippe Bélaval, the President of 100 monuments in France for the Ministry of Culture, at a lunch in the Salle Belle-Chaise. I imagined all that went on in this grand hall so many centuries ago!

After lunch and a lesson in the abbey’s history, we had a look at the cloister restoration where workers were busy waterproofing the garden and the galleries, including cleaning the numerous columns. All the while it’s open to the public, impressive! Archaeological excavations revealed the original level of the floors, 25 to 30 cm below the level that was in place. The 260 square meters of the “Merveille” cloister were once occupied by a garden which the abbey plans to reclassify. We carefully walked around the space where so much care was being taken in the refurbishment. I was in awe of the work being done and all the attention to detail. Aiding in this ambitious 11 month long restoration project estimated to be completed in 2018, is the French Heritage Society. Locally based company Saint James company has also stepped in, donating €2.50 for every striped jersey sold at €45. Even more reason to love this French brand! The public too can assist by making an online donation on www.mapierrealedifice.fr.

Our tour continued into the regal halls of Mont Saint-Michel, deep into the soul of this 13th century abbey.


After an in-depth visit of the interior, it was time to discover the views from above. We climbed the stairs up to the top of the abbey and were rewarded with a stunning vista! An experience I would certainly never forget.


A few last gazes into the horizon and it was time for dinner at Le Relais du Roy nearby Hotel Mercure.

Following dinner I discovered exactly why sunset at Mont Saint-Michel is so breathtaking, and worth the wait.

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.

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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