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…

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.

overcoming fear

Fear is defined as “a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. Being a rather courageous girl, there are few things that provoke this feeling. As a child I was fearful of a fast driver, until I became a driver myself and the thrill of speed enticed me. During my around-the-world travels I overcame my fear of water by learning to scuba dive in the temperate waters of Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi. I never feared heights and confirmed this by sky-diving in New Zealand. But skiing? This sport terrified me. It had been three years since our last alpine adventure, and still the fear was intact. And still I was determined to overcome it. With good friends by our side, we headed 2,200 meters up to the Dolomites, the stunning peaks of Madonna di Campiglio to be specific, where I would learn to glide back down… fearlessly.

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Day One. I had to ski down a red piste in order to arrive to the blue pistes. Panic! Somehow I managed to make my way down the mountain, my body recalling what it had learned during my last three attempts at skiing. I fell. I became frustrated. I felt uncomfortable. I got back on my feet. I was ready to call it quits.

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Day Two. My patient teacher met me in the morning and I very clearly expressed my fear, evident in the rigidity of my body. “Breathe” he told me. And so I did. Eagerly awaiting après-ski at the spa.

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Day Three. Another lesson. I almost felt at ease. Could I not stay on the blue pistes forever, please? I tried to meditate high up on the mountain, telling myself that discomfort makes us grow. Doesn’t it? Still not feeling it.

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Day Four. Suddenly my body took control. I could turn. I could begin to ski parallel. I could glide down the mountain, my Italian and our friends’ kids supporting me along the way. I could do it! And I actually loved it.

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Day Five. I felt one with the mountains. Well, not exactly, but I overcame my fear and knew that I was in control. I felt proud and accomplished, having stuck with it, even against my own desire.

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This magical landscape and the company we shared it with, made all the difference. Now back to dry land.

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.

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